After two weeks in Vietnam, my main comment is, it is too wet. It is not normally raining so much as the raining season ended in October and it doesn't really rain very hard but just a little bit of drizzeling but it does it most of the time. Some days are dry but gray and so far I only had two blue sky days.
The first few days I spend in Sapa, a village up in the mountains near the Chinese border. The main attraction here is the landscape and the people because in this area there are some minority people who dress and speak very differently from the Vietnamese. The first night I felt sick and hardly slept and the second day I didn't eat anything and stayed in bed so I got over it soon, must have been some bad food on my first day in Vietnam. Because of this I was unable to make a trip to some smaller minority villages and waterfalls.
After a quick stop in Hanoi I went on a three day tour to Halong Bay in the South Chinese Sea, have a look at the photos. The first night I stayed on the boat with 14 other people, we visited some really amazing caves, bigger than any I've ever seen before an in general just enjoyed the beauty of the bay. The second day I went hiking up the tallest peak on Cat Ba, a National Park and the largest island in the bay. The weather was wonderful and we went swimming by jumping off the roof of the boat. We also went kajaking around the karst mountains.
Back to the capital, Hanoi has it's own nice feeling, it's relatively big but it doesn't feel like it. There are hardly any tall new buildings like in Chinese cities and most of the time a tourists spends in the old town where houses sometimes are over a hundred years old. There is also the French quarter which feels a bit like Paris, but than not really. Street life is just too different, there are thousands of motorcycles and mopeds as well as bycycles on the small narrow roads. Especially at Christmas eve it was pretty mad because everybody seems to just cruising around the old town. It is virtually impossible to cross the street by waiting for a gap in the traffic. Instead you don't look and just start walking very slowly across the road and the traffic flows around you. I also cycled a few days and even though the traffic seems like total caos, it is fun. Traffic hardly stops, everybody is going around each other, people turning left cutting into the oncoming traffic but it all works fine. I stayed at the only Backpackers hostel in Honoi if not in the whole of Vietnam. Some Australian guys opened this a year ago, we had a BBQ for it's first birthday on the rooftop bar. The place was great because it was new and the guys in charge who what backpackers need, there even was a kitchen which you never see in Chinese hostels. I stayed several days in Hanoi and met a bunch of people but didn't really get into a gang with anybody. Luckily on Christmas Eve, Olivia arrived from Sapa. We had met in Beijing in September but she had gone to Vietnam and Loas soon after and we had emailed each other other the months and had arranged a meeting in Hanoi. Olivia is from Seattle and a fellow indiepop fan, she knew about me because of my web site and my record label and naturually we had a lot of things to talk about. We spend Christmas together in Hanoi, mostly by eating out in better restaurants, it was Christmas after all. We then decided to travel south together for a while.
Our first stop was a place called Ninh Binh just a few hour bus ride south-west of Hanoi. We hired motorbikes with drivers for a day to drive us around to the local sights which are all several kilometers away from the town. This was fun and in the afternoon we did a trip in rowing boats in another beautiful karts landscape and went on backroads through small country villages.
Next stop was Hue, just south of the DMZ, the old border area between North and South Vietnam and the location of heavy fighting in the American war as the Vietnam was in known in Vietnam. Hue is an old capital of Vietnam and some of the older buildings survived the war. We also did a day trip on a river boat and visited several royal tombs. We also spend New Years Eve in Hue. We started with a nice dinner which wasn't really that special because we are doing this every night since we met in Hanoi, and then went on to some bars which weren't that great. We finally ended up in the DMZ bar with a Aussie and Dutch couple at our table. They only seemed to have one CD, so after several hours we even knew all the Vietnamese songs on it by heart.