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Published: April 24th 2016
We noticed as we travelled from the airport to the old quarter that many of the buildings were 3 or 4 stories high and very, very narrow. We found this to be the case all over Northern Vietnam.
It was our spring break at KAS, so we decided to visit the Northern and Central areas of Vietnam. We arrived Saturday morning at the Vietnam Airlines counter and discovered that we had been upgraded to First Class. What a great way to start a holiday!
We were greeted in at the airport in Hanoi by a representative of Galaxy Cruise Lines and whisked to our hotel, The Silk Palace, in the old quarter of Hanoi. We quickly settled into our room and made arrangements with the front desk to take an afternoon walking tour of Old Hanoi.
We chose to take the Hidden Hanoi Walking Tour and learn about Hanoi's 1000 year old history. Our man arrived at 1:30, loaded us into cyclos and took us through the busy streets to see the lay of the area. The first thing we learned was that the YELLOW buildings were related to the government. We dismounted from the cyclos by the Thang Long Citadel where we got a brief history of Vietnam and it’s past rulers. Then we walked to Cua Bac Church which has been preserved as a memorial to the people who gave their lives for Christianity in
Narrow Streets and Traffic!!!!
Notice the girl riding side saddle on the scooter and texting. You do get used to riding the light maneuverable and convenient scooters.
Vietnam. We walked onto the Quan Thành Temple and then onto the Tran Quoc Pagoda located between the West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. Our guide gave us his mythical/pourquoi explanation about how the area came to be. We walked onto Nguyen Street and tried our first 'pho cuon', shaved beef, cilantro and greens rolled in thick rice sheets, then dipped in sweet fish sauce. Awesome! A Bia Hanoi (beer) completed our snack. We walked through the Hoan Kiem District, the old quarter and marvelled at the shopping, closet size shops, the narrow alleys, and eating places. The misty rain didn't cause us any problems as we maneuvered our way through markets, motor bikes and crowds. We ended our day with supper at My Pho, enjoyed a massage and then called it a night.
After breakfast Sunday morning, we boarded the tour bus for Halong Bay. Hugh (Hieu), our 31 year old guide, had our names and countries of origin memorized by the time we left Hanoi. We're told there are 93, 000, 000 million people in Vietnam. We were told that 2.5 million visitors come to visit the 'cat and mouse islands' of Halong Bay and there were
Markets and Vendors Everywhere
We noticed that there were many of these little corner markets selling fruits, vegetables and flowers. Other people sell their wares from the back of bicycles while others walk around with baskets hanging from the end of poles on their shoulders and sell their wares.
at least 30 other boats leaving as we left the harbour. We arrived at Halong Bay around 12:30, after a 4 hour drive, and promptly looked for Annette and Lionel. They were disembarking from their 2 day tour of the bay, too bad....they're long gone. Sigh!
Check out the short 1 minute video taken as we left the harbour: https://youtu.be/MqO0U6t0nPY
On the Galaxy Boat we got a beer, headed to the top deck and got to know some of the 16 members of our group. We were called to a spectacular 8 dish lunch at 1:30 and enjoyed the company and group setting. Our tender boat headed to the cave area and we spent the afternoon exploring and kayaking through them. We had a great time getting to know the other 14 people that were sharing our cruise. There were couples from Brazil, Australia, England, Denmark/Bangkok, Germany/Laos, Korea, South Africa, US and us from Canada. We bonded with the South African couple who had recently sold the restaurant they had operated in Australia for the last 7 years, and also with a German fellow who had married a lady from Laos. A couple of ladies from Korea rounded
Old Quarter Tricycles
We took a half day walking tour of Hanoi Old Quarter. We first took a ride in these pedal cycles to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and then a long, informative but leisurely walk back to our hotel.
out our group. We celebrated Olivia's 21st birthday (studying in Bangkok), with wine, cake, fruit and shrimp crackers and of course Happy Birthday! What a fun time we had visiting and swapping travel stories. We were called for dinner at 7:30 and once again we had 8 dishes, all delectable.
Monday morning we enjoyed the magical misty quiet and calm surroundings before boarding the 'tender' that took us to an island where we hiked through a series of caves and viewed the stalagmites and formations. Once back on the ship, we were given a lesson on making spring rolls, packed up and prepared to disembark around noon. We visited and swapped addresses, ate another 8 dish meal, settled our bill and disembarked. We boarded the bus back to Hanoi, and after checking into the Golden Lotus Hotel, we met Fiona and Peter for a bottle of wine before heading for a 'street food' supper with them.
Tuesday we spent visiting more of the Old Quarter, watched a water puppet show and wandered around. We were accosted by many people wanting to sell us pastries, fix or sell us shoes. We bailed out of the crowded area and both
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Mausoleum was built in 1975 on the spot where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum.
got an awesome 70 minute massage for $26 for BOTH of us. We cabbed to the HAAP Hotel near the airport. Open only 5 months, the hotel was operated by 2 young couples. We were given a huge modern room with 2 Kingsize beds, a bathroom as large as a bedroom, fed breakfast and taken to airport, all for about $45CAD.
After a short 1 hour flight ($65CAD) we arrived to sun and 29 degree heat in Da Nang which is situated about halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It’s the 4th largest city in Vietnam and is where the divide was between North and South Vietnam.
We checked into our 11th floor suite at the Beautiful Beach Hotel which is about a block away from the famed “China Beach”. We had a sitting room, a big bathroom and a huge bedroom with a view of the ocean, all for only $37.50CAD including breakfast! WOW! We spent the afternoon walking the beautiful clean sandy beach. The temperature was perfect. Little, bambo, circular, fishing boats sat on the sand, jelly fish dotted the sand and there were a few bars set up along the brick walkway. We
Yellow Government Buildings
Our guide informed us that the yellow coloured buildings were official government buildings. There were a lot of them in Hanoi. Once you were in a position of power, you gained more and more power.
headed back to the hotel for a rest and then as light was fading, we caught a cab to the Dragon Bridge which crosses the Han River. We watched the Dragon change colors every few minutes and were told it breathes fire at regular times every weekend. We walked along the Han River marveling at the lights and classical music coming from speakers installed along the light posts. We caught a brightly colored Riverboat that took us along the river and under several colorfully lit bridges. We met a young Vietnamese couple from London who invited us to join them for a drink on the 39th floor of the Novotel building. The view from the rooftop bar was spectacular, and we learned that only 6 years ago, the area where our hotel was located was simply a fishing village with only one bridge across the mighty Han River. There were now 5 bridges. The area was well built up with numerous small hotels, shops and residential districts. On our walk back to the hotel, we noticed there were tons of locals sitting on very short plastic stools visiting and eating. They were gathered on almost every corner and empty spot,
Hoan Kiem Lake
Located in the heart of the old historical centre of Hanoi, the lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.
enjoying life and company after completing their “tourist day”.
Thursday morning, we packed up, took our bags to the front and caught a cab to the Son Tra Peninsula and the 693m rise of land. There we saw the 67m Lady Buddha statue and several monks (male and female) chanting to her. What a beautiful setting! The flowers and shrubs decorated the venue with style. We caught our waiting cab and went off to Hoi An, Vietnam. 30 minutes later, we arrived at the Golden Sands Resort. The Golden Sand Resort has 212 rooms and boasts stunning ocean views and incredibly lush gardens. It rivals any all inclusive we have ever been at! We were upgraded to a junior suite which included a large patio overlooking the ocean. It was simply gorgeous.
Carmen, Linda’s principal at KAS, and her husband were staying at the Sunrise Resort, just next door. After checking in, we walked the beach and found them lounging under the umbrellas. We visited for a while, then decided to grab a bite to eat. Right across the street we found a small local restaurant that served us the most delicious BBQ’d oysters we have ever eaten.
This was the view from our hotel window. The jacarandas are in full bloom. These trees, native to South and Central America, have been planted extensively throughout Asia.
We caught the shuttle into Hoi An - Old Town and wandered around. After purchasing a few souvenirs we found a mojito place, enjoyed one, no 2, and people watched as the sun went down. We wandered the streets until it occurred to us that we should have a massage. Linda enjoyed a foot and leg massage. Maurice had a neck, back, shoulder, leg .... and was 'walked on' all over during his session. Cost was $30 for both massages. We met a beautiful Korean girl who joined us for the rest of the evening. Sunju was traveling alone for the first time and was delighted to join us for dinner at the White Rose restaurant, famous for its rose shaped dumplings and shrimp and pork tostadas. We wandered on noting the terrific light displays EVERYWHERE, the shopping and the crowds of people.
Friday morning, we opened the wall to wall curtains and were greeted by a sun filled day, terrific view of the beach and grounds; BEAUTIFUL, sigh! After coffee and a visit with Canada we headed to the breakfast buffet. What a buffet! If you weren't hungry that was just too bad because it was amazing! Pastries,
St. Joseph's Cathedral
Inaugurated in 1886, the cathedral has a small plaza out front and is a major tourist attraction in the Old Quarter.
fruit, yogurts, eggs, vegetables, noodles, breads, juices and so much more. The service with a smile was beyond amazing! We sat by the pool, visited and swam a bit in the 100 meter long pool (the largest swimming pool in Central Vietnam alongside the children’s pool and waterpark.). We perched right on the edge of the kiddie pool for a while and watched, wishing our grandchildren were here to enjoy the time and experience with us.
After a refreshing shower and change of clothes we walked over to see Carmen and Eric. They were choosing to stay close to the bathroom as a result of the previous night's meal. We headed across the street for morning glory with garlic, rice and BBQ oysters for our late lunch. Delicious!
Now the real reason we chose to stay at the Golden Sand Resort was because of our daughter-in-law Vicky, who just happens to be Vietnamese. Her family owns the resort and she suggested, perhaps we could meet her Uncle Duc while in Vietnam. She advised them we would be visiting, hence I believe, the upgrade to the junior suite we enjoyed so much. We left a message for Uncle Duc
On the Road from Hanoi to Halong Bay
We passed through miles and miles of rice paddies during the 4 hour trip. Along the way, we stopped for a half hour for at a Handicapped Workers Factory and Market.
at the front desk, and were fortunate to be able to meet him Friday evening. He was a very charming man with a good sense of humor. He has met Cory, our son, and talks kindly on Victoria. He currently resides with his family in Surrey, BC and has lived in Saskatoon and is married to a woman from Regina. He has 4 children and 2 grandchildren, so we had lots in common. We had beers and several Vietnamese dishes as we indicated that we enjoyed local food when traveling. We were fortunate to be able to meet him as he was not scheduled to return to Vietnam until the end of April, however business necessitated his early return. We parted ways around 11PM after an evening of easy conversation.
Saturday morning, we took a cab to the airport and landed in Ho Chi Minh City about noon. Having visited HCMC before we knew to catch the 152 bus which took us directly to the centre of the city and walking distance from our hotel. We visited the Ben Thanh Market, bought some clothes and souvenirs and then sat in the park watching the local people enjoying themselves on
Halong Bay Cruise Ships
Most of the cruise boats in Halong Bay boast 6-16 nice sized rooms. There are up to 200 overnight cruise ships and 350 day ships operating in Halong Bay.
a Saturday afternoon. There were several groups of people playing with "shuttlecocks", and doing all kinds of tricks like we do with hackey sacks in Canada. Several young college students came to visit and practice their English. We wandered to the "backpacker area" for a bite to eat after the sun set. We found a much more active night life than we remembered from our previous visit and finally selected a spot to sit and enjoy a few drinks while watching the action. We bought some local fruit on our walk back to our hotel and enjoyed them a lot.
After a restless noisy night, we had breakfast Sunday morning, took a cab to the airport and arrived back at our apartment in Kaohsiung around 3PM, in time to go to the market and stock up on fruit and vegetables for the coming week.
We love Vietnam and will return again!
Make sure to scroll down and check out the remaining pictures.
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