To begin our adventure in Vietnam, we flew with Air Asia from Bangkok to Hanoi in the north of Vietnam. We had an amazing introduction to Hanoi. What a place!!
We stayed in a perfect spot in the "Old Quarter" close to all the sights and sounds. Our room at the Capital Hotel is small, quaint and comfortable. All the hotels in Hanoi are tall, thin and with only one or two rooms on each floor. The staff are very friendly, speak Engllish well and are very helpful. We still can't get over how inexpensive everything is! Our room is $25/night and includes breakfast for two! A meal and a drink is around $3-$5.
The thing that struck us immediately is the traffic of scooters and cars. We have never seen anything like it!! There are no traffic rules, stop signs, traffic light or pedestrain cross walks in the old quarter. Basically you just beep ;your horn and go! The horns beep constantly all day and night. We quickly learned to get around sfely. Basically what you do i slowly and gradually enter the street , start walking and the scooters just weave around you!! It is still hard
to beleive but somehow it works. Who in their right mind would venture onto a street.... but here we are right in the groove. So far we have not seen any accidents. It's great in that we can walk anywhere or take a cyclo ride (taxi/carriage/bike combo). Another wierd thing is that everyone parks their scooters on thh sidewalk, so most of the time you walk on the street.
At first we were pleasantly surprised with the weather in Hanoi. It seems to be around 20-24 degrees each day. We are quite comfotable in longer shorts and T shirts. Some evenings we will wear a light hoodie. It still is a bit of a shock coming from 38 degrees in Thailand. The only down point was that so far we have not seen the sun in Hanoi. Very cloudy and grey. The first day was the best and each day seems to get a little cooler.
The first few days we did the self guided walking tours. We really enjoy these and the things you see!! My camera is alwasy ready. The streets are bustling with business, shops, industries and sales. Hanoi's old quarter is where the seed
of the communist revolution were sown in 1907. The streets and trades are very unique and interesting. Each short street only sells one kind of merchandise such as baskets, bamboo, brass, paper, combs, cloth, tin, coffins, cookies etc. Our hotel is in the tin district. They are busy cutting tin and hammering it into items for sale. The funniest street yet is the "Zipper Street" Piles and piles of zippers. Crazy!! The streets are all named by what they sell.
So far we love the food here. Quite similar to Vietnamese food at home but seesm to have a few different spices that are very nice. The Pho (Noodle Soup) and Bun (Rice bowl) are super good. There are also many very cool and unique restaurants and bars. Some of them are 100's of years old. The travel books are very helpful to find these places. One memorable lunch ws at Bun B Nam - a local noodle bowl place. It is a long narrow cafe with only room for long tables that stretch to the bact about 100 feet. When you enter you put up your finger to indicate how many bowls you want and they bring it
to you. There is only one dish available (fresh rice noodles topped with crisp fried garlic, bean sprouts, peanuts and beef) Warren sayks it is the best noodle bowl he has ever eaten and all for a total of $1.50. Mostly local people and a few adventurous tourists! He has been enjoying the clams and snails and has a blister already from using chopsticks!
We enjoyed a water puppet show one afternoon. It sounds like a show for kids buk adults also enjoyi the enchanting light hearted comedy about daily life in Haoi. It is quite amazing how the pupetters project the wooden puppets on bamboo poles up through the surface of the small pond that forms the stage. Quite unique and with live Vietnamese music. Definately worth seeing!
On Thursday we set out to see some of Hanoi's museums and history. The Ho Chi Minh Museum, Home and Toom were very impressive. Apparently Ho Chi MInh ws Vietnam's great revolutionary leader and in 1945 led the couintry to indpendency from France and ruled North Vietnam under a communist government. His dream was always to have a unified Vietnam which happened 6 years after he died in 1969.
It was quite eerie walking somberly through gthe mauseleukm where his body in embalmed and set onf a palaguin. We also toured through his home and gardens. As well, we went to museums and temples of Vietnamese culture touring structures that wer erected between 1400-1700 with the Confusion influence.
On Friday morning, we set off with GapTours for our cruise on Halong Bay. Our group of 14 includes a mixture of singles and couples of all ages from U.S. Canada, Ireland and the U.K. There is another couple about our age and a couple of retired teachers from Ontario. We drove east from Hanoi 3 hrs and arrived at Halong Bay. Unfortunately the weather was cloud (common for Halong Bay) and 20 degrees. However, te scenery was still breathtaking. The limeston islands and junket boats floating around was incredible! The first day we did a trek into some enormous caves with spectacular rock formations Hard to believe. Later we took a smaller paddle boat into a lovely lagoon where we say monkeys climbing and jumping all over the trees and rocks. The second we climbed 400 steps to a lookout to view the bay. It is so peaceful and
kind of mystic. An incredible sight.
We were very surprised and impressed with the junket boat overnight cruise. We had a private boat just for our small group. The junket is made of dark teak wood throughout. When we boarded the boat we were greeted by the crew and servers all dressed in black and white ready to serve us. The dining room was decorated with white tablecloths and red bows (like a wedding reception)! And the service and fine dining continued for the next two days.The meals were lik a cruise line with 6-8 courses and dishes. Seafood was the specialty with everything from steamed clams in lemongas t large shrimps tooysters tuffed with crab mat and delicious fried fish. And they had a lovely selections of wines. The cruise and meals were included in our 11 day tour.
The cabin on the junket was super nice. Teak throughout with comforable beds, lovely linens and quite spacious. As well, we got to try our hand at squid fishing. No luck but Warren did have a bite!! Anyway, the cruise was amazing, highly recommended!!!
On Saturday morning we boarded the famous Reunification Express overnight train heading south
to Hue. An overnight train is quite the experience for Canadians like us who never travel by train. We shared a 4 buk cabin with two other girls. It's kind of ike being at a slumber party. You get your treat andsit around while the train rolls on. The bunks are quite comfortable with a rocky ride included. Fourteen hours later we arrived in Hue at 8 a. m.
Story to be continued next week! Take Care
Mallory and Warren
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