Totally addicted to Laos

It would seem that we can’t stay away from Laos for too long.  We have spent the past month longing for several things in Laos; the amazing, kind, gentle, friendly people, the delicious food, walking down any street and being greeted with smiles and ‘Sabaidee!’, and just the general laidback-ness of the place.

Yesterday we spent the day out on the water on another gorgeous cruise through Ha Long Bay, which was totally amazing (and cloudy and freezing!).  On our arrival back in Hanoi we both felt relieved at our decision made a couple of days ago that we are now ready to leave this place.  We are sad to say that with a few exceptions, the local people we have encountered here in Vietnam have really lessened our enjoyment here and we’ve spent the past month listening to horror stories from other travellers about their Vietnam travels.  In fact, the only people we have met that are enjoying their time here are on 2 or 3 week holidays (any holiday is good when it’s a quick break from your normal routine, right?) – no one who is travelling long term has expressed positive feelings about this place, sadly.  At first we were very reluctant to listen to these reports, but as time has gone on, we have realised that for everyone to have the same stories there must be some truth in them.  One girl we met even said that last time she came here 2 years ago it was one of her favourite countries, and this time she has been shocked by the people and scams here and is really disappointed at how much it seems to have changed  (we heard this same story from someone else who had been here 4 years ago).

It is such a shame for a place with so much natural beauty to have this ruined by the behaviour of some of it’s people.  Everyone including our Vietnamese friends told us that Cat Ba island is the most laid back place in all of Vietnam (a few people also recommended the Central Highlands) and although up until a few days ago our intention was to travel south down the country to see for ourselves, we too have had our share of unfortunate Vietnamese adventures so we’ve decided to get out of here.  We are back in Hanoi now and today we fly to Dien Bien Phu on the Laos border, and tomorrow we will begin our overland trek back into our Asian homeland.  From what we’ve heard hopefully Dien Bien Phu will be a nice way to leave Vietnam on a high note!

As soon as we made the decision to follow our hearts and go back to Laos we have both been really excited, so that’s a sure sign that it’s the right thing to do.  We have really enjoyed the beauty of Cat Ba and it’s surrounding bays, but probably for every awesome, friendly local person we have met we’ve probably met 5 that just want to scam us by selling us something that is not real (for example, most of the boats to Bai Tu Long bay actually just go into Halong, plus many, many more stories like that!).

So as much as we hate to say it, it seems that either Vietnam has changed a lot in the past year or two, or maybe we’ve just had bad luck, but either way, this country for us has not been what we hoped for.  We’ve had heaps of fun here and seen some amazing things – Ha Long really is up there with things you must see in your lifetime – but we’ve also had heaps of frustration.  Who needs that when you can just be in places that are fun?

Good Morning Viet Nam!

View our location map in Ha Noi

Almost 4 months after we entered Thailand, and got into a Thailand-Laos-Thailand-Laos-Thailand-Laos-Thailand loop, we have finally managed to come to a new country!  Yippee for us!  We arrived in Ha Noi early yesterday morning and spent our first day here eating new and exciting foods, dodging motorbikes and cars (literally!) and generally being in awe of this crazy, crazy city.

Actually, we had expected Ha Noi to be even more intense and chaotic than it really is, and we are both quite glad that we have managed to spend 2 days navigating our way around and survive the traffic.  Our plan to avoid Ha Noi and go straight to Sa Pa didn’t quite work out when we had to get a ludicrously early flight and were both shattered from basically no sleep the previous night due to trains, subways, more trains and the airport.  So we decided to give ourselves a break and stay here basically just to rest.  It was kind of novel to arrive in Bangkok airport after travelling for so long, and yet we haven’t seen an airport for 4 months.

So we spent our first day wandering around Hoan Kiem Lake and seeing all the craziness of the streets.  They actually sell heaps of cool stuff here and we wanted to buy lots of things!  Our second day we spent mainly in parks and more wandering.  Dre has had many, many Vietnamese coffees and reckons it is the best coffee in Asia.  Now he has lost all concept of what not talking constantly might be like, so Karen has banned him from having more coffee until tomorrow!

We have been pleasantly surprised by the people we have encountered, all reports from friends and other travellers had led us to expect that we would be in for a bit of a shock in terms of the lack of friendliness from the Vietnamese people.  We have only met and dealt with truly lovely people and have been amazed at how a simple ‘No Thankyou’ makes street vendors just smile and immediately direct their attention elsewhere, instead of the constant hassling we had been prepared for.

Overall we have had a lot more fun here in Ha Noi than we imagined we would, it’s not so big and scary as we thought it might be, although it’s funny to think that it’s our first major city of the entire trip so far.  We are both pleased to be going to Sa Pa tonight on the train though, mountain goodness here we come!  Our photos are here.