Hanoi and Ha Long in the eyes of a foreigner

“I am on a minibus, currently navigating the streets of Hanoi, en route to Halong Bay.

After 3 days in Hanoi, I am looking forward to some comparatively quiet time.

Hanoi is a most incredible city, and I wish I had more time to explore it.

It has all the hallmarks of a developing South East Asian city, however it seems also very determined to get out of the ‘developing’ status as soon as possible.

The rate of change is tremendous, and in many ways, they seem to be emulating what other developed SE Asian cities such as Singapore have done: good roads, daily street cleaning, well maintained public parks, and an emphasis on Services as an industry.

It seems only just around the corner that food safety standards are adopted, road traffic made more stringent, and the prosperity skyrockets.

It will be interesting to observe.

I can also see how my Grandpa became so impassioned upon his visit here, the hurt and suffering that this country has been through is beyond comprehension, and the strong worded government makes pains to ensure it is not forgotten, that this country has beaten off multiple super powers, and are now independent and proud.

It definitely reflects in the attitudes of the people – ‘service, not servants’.”

We arrived in Vietnam on a Saturday morning, just before lunch.

One of the first impressions we had as we flew over the country was that it was waterlogged.

Rice paddies stretched across the landscape, creating a patchwork effect much like the Canterbury reigon in New Zealand, and all the towns seemed to edge right onto a sizable lake.

Vietnam Landscape

Vietnamese countryside from the air

As our airport transfer wasn’t forthcoming, we decided to cab it to the hotel – a nerve racking experience after all the horror stories of taxi drivers exploiting the naivety of tourists and charging them an extortionate amount.

We arrived at the hotel safe and sound, and more importantly, still with money in our pockets.

We were staying in the Hotel Elegance, one of a chain of boutique hotels, highly recommended to us by a friend.

The service and facilities here were second to none, with helpful staff, lovely rooms, and comfortable beds.

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

We spent 3 days making sorties to different parts of the town – exploring the Old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh Memorial park, Army Museum, and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison.

In between, of course, we gouged on Vietnamese cuisine, taking guidance from an array of suggestions from friends, guide books, and our hotel map.

Hanoi Streets

Streets of Hanoi

Old Quarter Hanoi

Old Quarter Wall

Hanoi City

Yean and Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi Army Museum

Hanoi Army Museum

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

Stamp Carving

Street side stamp carving

Of note were the restaurants Cha Ca La Vong, and KOTO.

Cha Ca la Vong is a family restaurant, in a rather ramshackle (but clean) old shop house, that sell one food, grilled fish.

While it is fair heart attack food, with a lot of butter involved, it was beautiful, tasty, and left us wanting more.

KOTO is a charitable restaurant that takes in street kids, gives them accommodation and income, and trains them up with amazing hospitality skills.

The food was divine, and despite a substantially nicer interior (upstairs have nice plush loungers to rest on), the prices were not significantly higher than the other places we had dined at.

One of the interesting cultural oddities I noted in Hanoi is the wake up time for the city.

I woke up early one morning to get out and experience the city as it woke up (an activity I highly recommend when in a strange city).

I was out on the street at 5am, but I wasn’t the first.

Already lining the streets were flower and fruit vendors, hawking their goods to the fairly sizable traffic already on the road.

I got to Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the Old Quarter shortly after, to find that what appeared to be half the city out and about jogging or walking laps of the lake, playing badminton, doing Tai Chi (or a Vietnamese variant of it), and even ball room dancing.

Needless to say, I was impressed.

Singapore seems to be the opposite, with the city still fairly sluggish and sleepy by 9am.

Early Morning Street Vendors

Early Morning Street Vendors, Old Quarter

Morning Exercise at the lake

Early morning exercise at the lake

After three days in Hanoi, we moved on to the second part of the trip, an overnight cruise through Halong Bay.

We booked this through Ocean Travel, and chose the Glory Cruises option – with a newly refitted boat, and a good reputation, it was the easy choice.

After a 4 hour mini bus drive across to the cruise terminal of Halong City, we were transferred to the ship via tender boat, and were on our way.

It wasn’t long before we were cruising through incredible rock formations, green capped and jagged – reminding me of the legend of the Dragons Teeth that formed the islands of the bay.

Glory Cruises

Glory Cruises

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Yean on Deck

Yean on deck

Cove in Halong Bay

Cove in Halong Bay

Rock Formations

Spoting shapes in rock formations

The accommodation on the cruise ship was lovely, and the service was great.

For the first time whist on a holiday, we were forced into doing nothing, only to sit on the deck, sip a pina colada, and watch the islands move by.

A wholesome experience overall, and nicely punctuated with side trips like a swim at a cove, a kayak through a floating village, and a walk through an extremely large cave system, where upon we spent an hour or so looking at rock formations and trying to see the animals and shapes that the guide was pointing out.

Our overnight location was beautiful, and despite the presence of about 15 other ships, it was extremely quiet, with only the faint drone of the generator and the lapping of the water against the hull to disturb the silence.

The next day we were back on land at mid day, after a hearty brunch that filled us up for the rest of the afternoon.

Another 4 hour mini bus trip back to Hanoi was spent dosing and occasionally taking pictures out the window.

After being dropped off at the hotel, we had a couple of hours to spare before we had to head to the Airport, so we dined at a quaint French cafe, and then found a small coffee store where we brought a bag of Vietnamese coffee to add to our collection of Borneo, Cameron, and Himalayan tea that we’re building up at home.

Cafe de Paris

Cafe de Paris

Finally it was time to race to the airport, only finding out there that the flight had been delayed another hour.

Note to self:

NEVER run out of books to read whilst waiting in the Hanoi airport at 9pm.

There’s not too much to do there.

Vietnam is now high on my list of places to recommend, and I’d love to get back there for a more extensive trip one day – I feel a bit disappointed with myself that we didn’t get far out of Old Quarter, which turns out is the main tourist area, and I’d love to see more of Hanoi, for instance the water theme park, the business district, and the West Lake area.

Oh well, next time.

Sunset over Hanoi

Sunset over Hanoi

Source: Blog The Image Maker

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