The Golden Time 2 in Hanoi is possibly the greatest hostel in the world. I've only been in about six so far but I'm pretty confident it doesn't get much better than this. Situated in the Old Quarter and staffed by some bend over backwards for your every need types, the rooms are awesome and coffee is free. I'd probably move here if I hadn't been heartbroken to find the cheap North Face gear isn't legitimate. After spending a day dodging street vendors and sampling the local cuisine in Hanoi, we set off to Ha long Bay in a bus full of friendly Scandinavians and were ushered onto a tender and driven out to our waiting accommodation for the night. Our two-storey junk was looking a little worse for wear as we were hauled aboard by the crew but the inside was really tidy with modern bathrooms and deck chairs so smooth you slide right off them. We set sail immediately for a large cave I never caught the name of. Our enthusiastic English speaking tour guide was somewhat difficult to understand and spent a good hour using a laser pointer to show all the "animals" in the stalactites. For future reference 'toto' is turtle and the unicorn is one of "Vietnam Supernatural Animal". The cave was pretty impressive and took a good amount of time just to wander through. We followed this up with a hike to the top of a neighbouring island (hike is used very loosely here and may refer to anything from a set of stairs to a full on trek). Those brave enough to venture out in the chilly 15 degree weather then jumped in double kayaks to explore the bay further. We were having a relatively relaxing time paddling along the shore and through a cave when we popped out into another bay and were suddenly surrounded by monkeys. Less then three metres from the boat and swinging through trees above our heads, these guys obviously aren't phased by the sight of a motley bunch of tourists as they dug for shell fish quite happily on the beach. The following day we were dropped at Cat Ba Island for more hiking in the National Park where we climbed to the top of a sizable hill and enjoyed full panoramic views of the area. The hotel for the night was also really nice until the guys fixing power lines down the road cut electricity to the whole block for the day. We spent our afternoon wandering the empty beaches and roads and trying to picture the teeming crowds that apparently swarm the island in summer. It was a quiet night and another early morning back to the boat and across to the mainland for our trip back to Hanoi. In true western fashion we had KFC for dinner - just for a break from not knowing what we were eating and wandered along Hoan Kiem Lake where preparations for Vietnamese New Year is in full swing. Actually very fond of this city, even if beer prices vary 300% from one pub to the next it's nice not to be sweating the moment you leave the hotel. China in three days.
Rachael and Jeremy