Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam
April 20 / May 9, 2016

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Hanoi, Wed. Apr. 20 and Thurs. Apr. 21
3  Hanoi, A rainy day, Fri. Apr. 22
4  Hanoi, Koan Lake, Sat. Apr. 23
5  Random Riding, Sun. Apr.24 to Tues. Apr 26
6  Halong Bay, Wed. Apr. 27 to Fri. Apr. 29
7  International SOS, Sat. Apr. 30
8  Old Quarter, Sun May 1 to Mon. May 9
9  Temples
10  Carts and Bicycles
11  Hanoi Traffic

1  Introduction

In 1968, I went around the world and my air ticket had a stop in Saigon. I was unable to find an Vietnamese embassy so I didn't get a visa. Fortunately, the air tickets were sufficiently flexible that you could skip or double up segments with no penalty. My real reason to go now is to see the karst islands in Halong Bay. I will spend my entire time in the north, and ignore the south with the modern incarnation of Saigon, namely Ho Chi Minh City.

2  Montreal to Hanoi, Wed. Apr. 20 and Thurs. Apr. 21

I left Montreal at just after 7:00 am, first to Chicago, then Tokyo and finally Hanoi. arriving there at 10:45 pm. The flight was only about 27 hours but I lost a day going over the dateline. It was an appropriately uneventful three flights, and bike and trailer arrived intact. I had arranged to be picked up in a shuttle, and sure enough, there was someone there with a sign that said MICHAEL JOHN FERGUSON. The drive to my hotel was flat and dull, but it was nice not to be riding. The people at the Hanoi Garden Palace were expecting me so there was no hassle. I picked this hotel because it said that it was wheel chair accessible. I am currently on the fourth floor. There is no way a wheel chair could get up here.

3  Hanoi, A rainy day, Fri. Apr. 22

I started to put my bicycle together just after breakfast and ran into great difficulties. I had removed the handle bars to make it easier to fit into the bag. However, the front brake cable came off the handle and wouldn't go back on. I ended up by disconnecting almost everything an d finally succeeded in attaching it. This had taken most of the morning. Just after I had finished, it started to pour rain. Had I been more efficient, I would have been caught in it.
Everybody outside became covered with light plastic ponchos. Although they looked miserable, it did not stop commerce.
Much to everyone's relief, the rain stopped at about mid-afternoon, and people could wander around comfortably. I found an ATM so I begin to buy supplies. I still have not seen a grocery store. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

4  Hanoi, Koan Lake, Sat. Apr. 23

Today I rode down to Koan Lake and got my first taste of the totally undisciplined and chaotic traffic that exists in Hanoi. I didn't see much because I was concentrating completely on just surviving.
The ride around the lake, though was quite pleasant because it was a bicycle and pedestrian path.

5  Random Riding, Sun. Apr.24 to Tues. Apr 26

I spent the next few days riding around the Old Quarter, and sitting down occasionally to watch the world go by.

6  Halong Bay, Wed. Apr. 27 to Fri. Apr. 29

Halong Bay with its karst limestone islands jumping out of the bay is Vietnam's premier tourist attraction, and the real reason I came to Hanoi. There are literally hundreds of tours to choose from and making a choice is not at all obvious. Every hotel in Hanoi advertises tours and Lonely Planet's major advice was to avoid the really cheap ones. After some searching, I settled on a 2 night, 3 day, mid priced tour by V-Spirit. Since you spend a half day on the bus going each way to Halong Bay from Hanoi, the alternative 1 night, 2 day tours are hardly worth it. I was quite happy with my choice. I had a very nice stateroom with a private bathroom and shower, all to myself. The food was excellent and it was, indeed, quite pleasant.
After lunch on the boat, we started sailing. It was grey and a little overcast but it was not raining.
After we had anchored, we were visited by a couple of small boats selling goodies.
I bought a bottle of wine, at about one tenth the cost of a bottle on the boat. There were no villages around here so I wondered how they got around. Later, I saw one tied up to a small power boat.
The next day we transferred to a smaller boat while our big one went back to port to transfer and get more passengers. This was our first day of kayaking. Our kayaks were carried on our boat so we did not need the kayak station that served the other five boats there.
After that there was some swimming and a leisurely sail past more islands.
We had an early lunch and arrived back at the dock at about noon. Just after we arrived, it started to rain.

7  International SOS, Sat. Apr. 30

Unfortunately, on the second day on board, my thumb became infected and swollen. It then painfully spread to all my other fingers and I couldn't even close my hand or hold anything. It was clear that I needed medical attention, and one of the girls, an ER nurse agreed. I tried to find, her recommendation, the American International Hospital but no had heard of it, especially the taxi driver that I asked to take me there just after I arrived back on Friday night.
TripAdvisor recommended International SOS. It is based in London, specializes now in evacuations, but was originally set up to supply medical services in South East Asia. They have a very modern, well equipped clinic hidden behind a shopping centre just outside Hanoi.
One curiosity was about pricing. If you wanted a European doctor, the charge was $181.00. A Vietnamese doctor cost only $25.00. I opted for the Vietnamese. It was not obvious where the infection came from, but I had an infected toe that had been treated with antibiotics just before I left. It had not completely healed so the doctor opened, and cleaned it out.
I was given two antibiotics, and a more powerful version of ibuprofen.

8  Old Quarter, Sun May 1 to Mon. May 9

Since I couldn't close my fingers to hold on to the handlebar, I was forced to be a pedestrian for the rest of my time in Hanoi. This meant that I explored the area around my hotel on foot. The Hanoi Old Quarter has the most unusual architecture that I have ever seen in a city.
The houses share the streets with the urban chickens.
Street food is supposed to be a special treat in Hanoi. I saw very little, except for families eating lunch on the sidewalk, an advertisement for a tour, and a street food restaurant???
It appears that the gutters are the garbage bins in Hanoi. It took all my willpower to be able to throw stuff into them. Push carts came by frequently to clean them out.
At night, the lanterns down the street gave a welcome glow.

9  Temples

The small street front temples that I saw had insides that were very different than anything I have seen before in Asia.

10  Carts and Bicycles

There is a lot of moving commerce in the streets, carried on carts, bicycles, and shoulder poles. In the most cases, the merchandise is quite specialized

11  Hanoi Traffic

Hanoi traffic is, as one Hanoian said to me is crazy. I did not see a single stop sign and red lights, were invitations to motorbikes to see if they could get through them before the traffic in the opposite direction started. Crosswalks, with pedestrians and lights barely slowed down the motorbikes. The safest place to cross a street was between intersections. Then you knew you were not about to be blind sided from someone turning the corner.
Each intersection became a case of dissolving gridlock, as cars and motorbikes in each direction tried to find a narrow slot they could squeeze through. One nice gesture was bus that stopped for a little old lady pushing a cart. It was close enough to the curb. so no one could come along on the inside.
As I was sitting down at one corner, I was marvelling at the lack of accidents. However, that turned out to be not true. I saw two in less than 3 hours at the same intersection.
Almost everyone in Hanoi wore face masks while riding., The girls took it further and tended to cover themselves.
Even the sidewalks were dangerous. A girl asked me to move so she could get her motorbike out. About five minutes later, a motorbike riding on the sidewalk crashed into the place I had been sitting. It certainly would have spoiled my day. Hanoi is not a pleasant place to ride a bike. The guidebooks for Kuala Lumpur claimed that you needed to have a death wish to ride a bike. Kuala Lumpur was a ride in the park compared to Hanoi. Perhaps my infected hand saved my life.


One surprising fact is that Hanoi is actually two words, with ample accenting.
In fact, Vietnamese seems to split their names into separate words at syllable boundaries. Thus it is Ha Long Bay and Sai Gon.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.03.
On 21 May 2016, 08:27.