Published: September 23rd 2008August 31st 2008
I have just spent 7 days in Northern Vietnam. I flew in and out of Hanoi on Air Asia, a budget airline for the South East Asian area.
My first day was spent in the bustling city of Hanoi. I wandered the streets of the Old Quater. There was a lot of noise and millions of motorbikes (and to confuse me they drive on the right side of the road). To cross the road you kind of just start walking out into the street and let the motorbikes form the path around you. The streets of the old quater are jam packed with charm. The French left behind some great architecture (and some good food like crepes and baguettes). There were whole streets selling the same goods for example silk street, roll of cellotape street, buddist alter street, shoe street etc. My favourite was the street dedicated to rolls of cellotape and rope.
In the early evening I went to a water puppets performance, it was a different take on the classic Asian puppet show. The puppeteeres stand in the water behind a screen and all of the manipulations of the puppets movements are done under the water. I
thought it was a very clever and cute show. It would be particurally good to take kids to the show. They even had a couple of fire breathing dragons.
Later that evening I jumped on a really flash overnight train heading to the far Northern town of Sapa. I joined a tour group from the backpackers, there were 5 of us from there and we were all from different continents (Me from NZ- Australasia, Tori from Canada - North America, Daniel from Columbia - South America, Mike from England - Europe and Sar from Israel - Asia). It was a great group of fun people. Although I haven't been teased so much for my accent since I left NZ. In Sapa we met up with our Vietnmese guide and another two tourists from Germany.
We trekked from Sapa down a valley of beautiful mountains and lush green rice paddie terraces. It was quite wet when we were there, but that added to the mystic of the place. For part of the trek we had a entourage of Vietnamese women from various ethnic minorities dressed in traditional clothing shadowing us. They spent the whole time helping us along (as
it was very muddy and slippery) and asking a few questions in English. The trek took us to a homestay at the bottom of the valley, at the joining of two rivers. It was a great house, which seemed almost completely constructed of bamboo (which made for some careful walking on the floors for us heavy westerners). The homestay was located close to some hot springs so we went and had a swim. The hot springs were fantastic because we were up in the Mountains so it was a bit cooler (highs in the 20's rather than 30's) and the springs seem to be mixed with cold water to make them a great temperature. The following day we took a brief trip to a waterfall and then trekked back up the valley. We were able to explore the town of Sapa for a couple of hours before heading back to Hanoi on the overnight train.
When the train arrived in Hanoi I pretty much got off that tour and joined a trip heading out to Halong Bay straight away. It was a 4 hour bus trip to Halong City. This tour group was 15 people and we jumped on
a wooden junk (very nice, large boat). We then went out on a cruise amongst the over 3,000 limestone islands that make Halong Bay a Unesco world heritage site. It was really beautiful and probably the place where I have taken the most photos so far. We cruised past a couple of villiages that were floating on the water, and headed to a more secluded spot where we went kayaking through the islands and into caves full of bats. We had a swim in the warm waters, but had to make it quick because there were people getting stung by jellyfish. We had a party on our junk that night and the following day cruised back slowly to the warf and got the bus back to Hanoi.
Unfortunately I had booked a flight back to Bangkok so only got to see the North of Vietnam, but I have left plenty for exploring at a later time.
There are more photos below