25 hours on a bus was my idea of hell, and it was proven correct within minutes. Andrew, Roxanne and I were placed at the back of the bus (by the boiling hot engine and the smelly toilet) on the bottom 3 adjacent beds, they were to short for our western height which was expected, but also the ceiling of the beds above where Cal, Dom and a Mexican chick were was so low we were unable to sit up straight. We had a 4 hour stop off at around 2am where the ‘air-con’ (which didn’t work at the back anyway) was turned off, meaning it was even hotter. Feeling claustrophobic, increasingly agitated and tired I was close to tears, the experience was even worse for Dom, who with a very dodgy tummy successfully managed to explode from both ends at the same time, requiring a change of clothing and lots of piss-taking from us.
We arrived at the boarder around 7am, and waited around for a bit before standing in a moth and bug filled room to hand over our passports, all not so subtly staring at a girl with the hairiest legs we’d ever seen, on man or woman; she subsequently became known as ‘hairy legs girl’ as we saw her many times throughout our trip down Vietnam and into Cambodia. This was before we headed off on a 1km walk back to the bus, which would take us to Hanoi.
Luckily we had booked 3 nights in a nice hotel for Cals birthday, Hanoi was overwhelming, but in a good sense. The roads were full of thousands of motorbikes, and with non-stop horns blaring we slowly attempted to cross the roads, fearing for our lives every step of the way, by the end of the 3 days we were pros doing it Vietnamese style, just walking out into the road holding your hand up to stop any oncoming traffic.
The day of Cals birthday Roxanne and I woke him to a lovely looking piece of cake, a handmade card featuring a pop up turtle, a bookmark (which he lost 3 days later) and a terrible version of the happy birthday song. We had wanted to buy him a playboy magazine, however after unsuccessfully trying to act out impressions of this type of magazine to the vendor we settled on just the bookmark. To make his day even better we bought him a unicorn balloon, which he later spent hours with in the bathroom as he drunk-skyped his mum. The unicorn had a great few hours exploring Hanoi with Roxanne and I, we took him shopping where he bobbed around numerous shops and changing rooms before being handed over to his excited new owner.
Cals birthday was spent first off in Ho Chi Minh museum, which was interesting, and more of an artistic interpretation than a chronological history museum, Uncle Ho seemed a pretty top bloke. The afternoon session was spent at the war museum, where we read about Vietnams fair share of wars. The photographs were shocking to see, portraying the victims of war. The museum was pretty one sided against the Americans, and the giant American place wreckage was a harrowing sight to see, proof of how brutal this war was.
The evening was spent eating street food sitting on small plastic chairs trying Vietnamese dishes, and sampling Hanoi beer. There is a curfew in place in Hanoi, meaning the bars close at midnight, we heard of a place called the Lighthouse, a club which evades the curfew allowing backpackers to party later into the night. After jumping on a motorbike taxi we arrived there, only to find it shut down by police, we walked around the block amidst a large group of rowdy backpackers, only to find the police were still around, we called it a night and headed off to the hotel armed with cheap wine and beers.
It was in Hanoi where I found myself wanting to do some exercise, Roxanne and I dragged ourselves out of bed in the early hours and went for a run around the main lake in Hanoi, it felt good to be exercising and proved to me just how much my fitness levels had dropped since travelling. We stopped at some benches to carry out a squat, lunge and tricep dip circuit, only to have 4 professional looking photographers taking our photographs as we sweated and repeated the circuit. We were then approached by a pretty and well-dressed Vietnamese girl with whom we were entered into a mini photoshoot, pointing to her book and gazing wistfully out over the lake, as we tried to catch our breath and dripped sweat. It was not a long run, it did allow us to see a few sites around the lake and made our legs ache for days.
Also whilst in Hanoi we arranged our next few days of travel, which were to be spent on a boat floating around Ha Long Bay, one of natures wonders of the world. I really enjoyed my time in Hanoi, it was a city which provided home comforts such as KFC, MAC Cosmetics and even a H&M, whilst being completely Vietnamese, with crazy roads, street food cafés, intricate architect and friendly people, it is somewhere I definatley plan on returning to.