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Azamara Quest Blog #6 from Hanoi

Ben Hall

Imagine a 12 hour day of touring where more than half the time is spent sitting on a tour bus. Sounds a bit rough doesn't it? But when you're on a cruise ship and you want to see one of the most exotic cities in Asia then you've got to do the hard yards.

Our next port, at Halong Bay is the closest point to the Vietnamese capital in the far north of the country and at just under 200km away, it's at least a three hour drive each way (sometimes more if the traffic is backed up on the dual carriageway that runs between the port and the big smoke).

The long haul up to Hanoi was worth it though, thank god. This is an Asian city at its heart with a Parisian feel thanks to its period of French colonisation. Mopeds and bicycles clog the streets fronted by market stalls and outdoor cafes and all around European architecture adds to the bizarre mix which somehow works.

We flashed through the place on a tour called "Hanoi in a Day" and really it should have been called "Hanoi in 2-3 hours with lots of traffic around". We swept through the city's Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake where hawkers in traditional hats punt their wares, and looked longingly at the fabulous Vietnamese coffee being sipped on sidewalk cafes. But no time to stop for us .. we were on a mission that also included the Presidential Palace where the country's legendary "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh lived and ruled and where he lays in a mausoleum.

The beautiful Temple of Literature was also on the schedule along with a lunch stop at the new Intercontinental Westlake for some traditional Vietnamese food in a sumptuous five star setting. The drive back took nearly four hours through towns and cities that have sprung up along the corridor between Hanoi and Halong and it was a fascinating snapshot into day to day life of the north Vietnamese.

Anyway, it's a sea day then the finish line in Hong Kong .. will do a wrap up of the whole cruise in the next day or two.

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