Vietnam: Hanoi and Cat Ba

Monday 27th February  Hanoi

We arrived by train from Hue in Hanoi right on time, at 4.01am. This time, I wish the train was late though, it is tough to arrive in the middle of the night in a city. We made the mistake of following the first taxi guy who came at the train. He said he had a meter, so we thought that would be fine. Big mistake! His taximeter was crazy, charging 1,000 dons more every 20 seconds. When we got to the hotel, we had to pay 180,000 dons for the ride! I had heard about the taximeters of Hanoi which were trafficated. I had been travelling for 3 months. And still, we managed to get scammed. Ahaha, funny Vietnam!

It was really cold in Hanoi, back to 2 jumpers again after some sunny weather in the south.

We found quickly an hotel at 5am. First they wanted to charge us 10 dollars for an early checking, but in that case it was simple enough for us to wait for 2 hours or look for another one, so finally they accepted to let us in early without charging extra.

I slept a bit and then went to the immigration office at the opening at 8am to do my visa extension. Unfortunately, they refused me as foreigners have to apply via an agency to do it. So I went to a travel agent and gave my passeport for an express visa extension, 27 dollars for French + 10 dollars to get it back the next day at 5pm.

Then I went with a motorbike driver to the Embassy of Burma and asked them what they wanted to give people a visa. They said I would have to provide proof of a package tour, showing in which hotel I was staying each night, plus a letter of recommendation from the company where I worked, and that it would take minimum a week to make the visa. Insane. I had the confirmation that the easiest would be to do my visa in Bangkok where apparently all this is not required and where it is possible to do it in one day. Fingers crossed for the Friday 9th March, as I am supposed to fly out to Burma on the 10th March!!! We will see…

After that, I came back for a nap and we went for lunch around 1pm and then walked around. There is a great atmosphere in the Old City of Hanoi which is full of little shops and activity outside.

old city

There are lots of small vendors going around with goods on their bikes. They are called “hang rong”, rong means “going around to sell” and “hang” means goods.

hang rong

I ran into a mother with a really cute girl!

cute little girl

I also ran into a woman making spring rolls in the street. Since I have been in Vietnam, I have eaten spring rolls almost every day, they are really delicious here!

spring rolls

Then we met with Lung that I had met at the Phnom Penh Photo festival in Cambodia 3 months ago and with who I had spent a week shooting there. He had been to Australia for 2 months and was just back in Hanoi since a week. It was awesome to see him again!

In the streets we walked, I sometimes fell like being in Paris. Look at this cathedral, doesn’t it look a little bit like Notre-Dame?


The place where we actually went for a coffee was called “Café De Paris”, ahah. It had a truly Parisian setting, with sepia photos of the Eiffel tower and Louvre Pyramides. I felt like being back there for 2 hours, as if I was welcoming Lung to Paris!

Café de Paris

We ran into a woman selling many balloons in the street.

woman and balloons

We went for dinner to “Little Hanoi” restaurant, looking for the right one as they are actually three in the same street (funny Vietnam, ahah!). On our way to the restaurant, we ran into Audrey-Laure and Olivier again, so we proposed them to join us for dinner and the five of us had a great dinner there together.

Tuesday 28th February

This was a “day-off” for me. When you travel long, you realise you need vacation in the vacation, kind of “week-ends” where you do nothing. I would have loved to visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, or the tribe museum, or the Temple of Litterature, or the lake, or the War Museum…Oh well…

So I just chilled out all day, drafting some articles for the blog, and transferring photos from all my cards to the computer, which I had not done for ages, as well as saving them to external drives.

I took a break for lunch joining my father and a friend of him and his wife, at Little Hanoi again. There I met Anny, the traveller eating just behind us with a friend of her. She was in her fifties and had been travelling a lot all over the world the last 10 years! It was great to chat with her. She was really knowledgeable about travelling tips. After Vietnam, she was going to China where she had already been many times.

In the evening, we met again with Lung and also with David, a Dutch guy I had met on my first day in Phongsaly, so a month before, and again in Phonsavan. It is awesome to meet again in different places people you have met earlier in your travels. We went to a bar Lung knew to have some drinks, and then to a restaurant David knew called Highway Four where we had delicious food. And that was my day, a wonderful day “off”.

No pictures, sorry!

Wednesday 29th February

What a beautiful day, the 29th February, a day that takes place once every 4 years only, how precious a day. We took a bus at 7am to Cat Ba island. At the bus station, we realised my dad had been scammed on the bus ticket’s price, even if buying them straight from the bus company headquarter. He had paid 250,000 dons per ticket instead of 190,000 dons. Ah Ah! I decided that on the way back, it would be a pleasure going back to their office and practising the national sport of France, that I enjoy myself very much: complaining! But for the moment we were on the bus to Cat Ba, on a beautiful 29th February, such a special day that not being scammed in Vietnam that day would have been boring.

To go to Cat Ba island, we took a minivan. Then a big bus. Then a boat. Then another minivan. The journey is really well organised and smooth and we got there around 1pm. The weather during the entire journey was really foggy!

Our boat was the small one which is hidden behind the big boat on the left. I just realised I haven’t any better photo of it.


However, I did take a picture of the motor, which was crazy big and old.

the motor

We saw some women collecting mussels on the rocks.


We saw also some really cool fishermen houses like this one:

fisher's house

There is a crazy project going on on the island of Cat Ba. All this sand you can see on both sides of the road will be turned into lakes!

sand to lake

Here is the small city of Cat Ba on Cat Ba island.

Cat Ba

And this is the view I had from my room on the 7th floor of our hotel. Hey hey hey!!!
Oh that view was so gorgeous. This is exactly the kind of view I would like to have every single morning when I wake up. You open the curtains, and what you see on the left is…this!

view from hotel

And on the right is this:

view on the right

And if you zoom in, you get this:

zoom in

Very cool, uh?

We went for some lunch and at the end ordered some Vietnamese coffee. But the coffee pots we were given didn’t let the water filter through, and after 20 minutes the water was still up.  So we paid the lunch but refused to pay the coffee. The guy was a bit mad and didn’t want to let us go at first, but after keeping pointing to the coffee pots and insisting that if he wanted us to pay, he had to give us something we could drink, then he finally let us go.  Ok, again, this is such a small thing. But how come this happens in Vietnam, and never ever happens in Lao or Cambodia? Uh???

After that, we went for a walk near the waterfront. Gorgeous views of the bay!

bay of Cat Ba

In the evening, we had dinner with Richard, from Jersey, and Ignas, from Lituania! Woo, another person from Lituania, travelling!!! Neringa, do you hear that??? Quite rare. We had seen him take pictures with an Hasselblad on the boat. We talked photography. He is indeed a photographer, more an art photographer. Here is his website:

We spent the evening talking about photography and looking at different websites and the work of different photographers, it was cool.

Thursday 1st March

This was another day off for me. I finally started catching up with the blog, writing the articles about Cambodia again and the first ones of Vietnam. Pfiou…I really didn’t mind chilling out indoors all day as I had such a great view over the Cat Bat bay. Luckily, if we can say that, the weather was really foggy, which meant I was not tempted either to go crazy photographying around. In the afternoon, my dad went sight-seeing with a motorbike driver and brought back some pictures. He went to a beach where fisherwomen were bringing back fishes from the sea, and actually even asked him to help.


He saw a man ploughing his field with the help of his buffalo.


He also some people like this man who were taking out rice in order to replant it in another field.


In the evening, we went for some dinner me and him. And later Ignas and Richard came back late and I joined them as well as a German couple for some beers and some wine. We opened a very weird bottle of wine, the wine was blue and had a taste of disgusting medicinal plants alcohol. Ahah, funny Vietnam, even when buying wine, we manage to get scammed! Oh, Oh, Oh!!!  Shame I don’t have a picture of the label…We also debated about art until 3am, it was quite interesting. What is an artist? Does art have a function? Does an artist need an audience or not to be an artist? Does art exist if it is never seen by anyone? Cool discussion!

Friday 2nd March

With Ignas, my dad and an older German couple, Elena and Reinhard, we went on a one-day boat ride to discover the Han La Bay and the Halong Bay. The weather was still really foggy, but a tiny bit less than the day before.

Fishermen keep many dogs with them.


This is some of the landscape we had during the trip.

han la bay

Here is a cool rock which is so thin on its base you wonder how it can hold


We saw a crocodile waiting to swallow some boats.


We also saw a cool turtle.


And another turtle:

turtle 2

We sadly also saw a lot of plastic jellyfishe, but somehow I think I have deleted all the photos on which they appear.

We went to visit a huge cave called Hang Thien Cung.When getting off the boat, we were welcomed first by a really cool smile!!! :-))


There was a great view over the bay from the entrance of the cave.


That cave was really touristy. It was a really beautiful cave, although a bit too “organised” for me, as it had concrete paths and ropes, and green, blue, yellow lights everywhere.


However, it had really cool bins in shape of penguins and dolphins. Ignas especially loved them, and took 3 rolls of them with his Hasselblad, starting a mini-project about them!


We went to another cave, which was smaller but from which we had a great viewpoint.


And still some really cool penguins bins! 🙂


We also went to the Musicians Monkeys island, where Ignas and I spent more time looking for coquillages and corals than for the monkeys. I love to look for coquillages, this is cool. I am getting 30 very soon, and decided today to make a list of the 30 things I really enjoy and should do more often. Here is now one I have put on the list! Going to the beach more often and looking for coquillages. How peaceful.

One of the musicians monkey we saw there, this one plays the flute:


And some young musicians monkeys fighting. I saw the one getting slammed actually stealing his guitar from the one slamming him. Fair enough to be pissed off in that case.

fighting monkeys

I desperately searched for dragons, but couldn’t see any that day. But according to Ignas, that’s because they are hiding under the rocks.

On the way back, the five of us had a lot of funs with Ignas’ corals creating many pieces of art. You will surely see them soon in Pompidou, but if you want to buy some in exclusivity in advance, let us know.

First, we gave life to a fat guy.

fat guy

Then to a family of dinosaurs.


Then to a speaking house.


And a butterfly.


And finally, we also gave life to a driver coming back home.


At that point, I have to admit I was really jealous of Ignas’ kit of corals and thought about stealing it. But then I remembered those musicians monkeys fighting, and I thought I didn’t really want to be slammed like that. But I have updated my list though. Go more often to the beach to look for coquillages corals.

We came back around 5.30pm, had a rest and then went for an early dinner at Mr Zoom, which apparently according to Richard is one of the best outside eatery of Vietnam recommended on tripadvisor. Although I had ordered rice with eggs and vegetables, Mr Zoom managed to serve me noodles. Oh well, he rectified it quickly. How come do these “oh strange another little misunderstanding!” take place in Vietnam and not in Lao or Cambodia? Very small thing again, and the rice was delicious at the end, and his springrolls too. In the evening, I watched Spiderman with Richard and Ignas. It was cool, I had totally forgotten that movie.

Tomorrow: Back to Hanoi for an afternoon!