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Published: January 2nd 2015
One of the trip highlights: Halong Bay
But this was only our second stopover, so let's start with some pictures of Hanoi.
In late October my mum came to visit me in Singapore. She spent a few days in the city with me and then, on 29th October, we headed off for a two week trip to Vietnam. I had booked a pre-arranged trip that would take us to Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Ninh Binh in North Vietnam, to Hué and Hoi An in Central Vietnam, and to Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta in South Vietnam.
We arrived in Hanoi in the late afternoon of the 29th. After checking in at our hotel, we went for dinner and an evening walk through the city. Our hotel was right in the Old Quarter where there are a lot of shop houses and narrow streets that are buzzing with life. There are a lot of people in the streets, tourists as well as locals. There are also quite a lot of cars. However, the most stunning thing is the number of motor bikes, it feels like there are millions and millions of them. Crossing the street feels like a challenge in first place, but once you start walking you realise that they will drive around you if you just keep walking at
Hanoi: One Pillar Pagoda
Small pagoda resting on just one pillar, in the Ho Chi Minh Complex.
a steady pace. We had some tasty Pho (noodle soup) and walked around the streets for quite a while before going back to our hotel. What we also realised was how extremely friendly and helpful people were. The lady in our hotel took a lot of time to recommend places to eat and tours to take around the city, and people out there were just as friendly.
The next morning we caught a taxi to Ho Chi Minh Complex. There is the One-Pillar-Pagoda, which, as the name already implies, sits on a single pillar in a little pond. It is the only building in the area that has nothing to do with Ho Chi Minh. It symbolises a lotus flower, the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. Behind it is a Bodhi Tree, the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
Everything else in the area is in some way dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. There is the mausoleum, where his mummified corpse can be visited. However, it is currently under refurbishment in Moscow and the mausoleum is closed. We went straight to Ho Chi Minh Museum. This I found super interesting, not so much because of all the facts
Hanoi: Ho Chi Minh Museum
Interesting to get another perspective of the Vietnam War and the development of the country afterwards: not the Western one, but the Vietnamese one.
they tell you about Ho Chi Minh’s life, but more because it reflects how the Vietnamese see the Vietnam War and how proud they are of their country. There were so many photos of outstanding achievements of the Vietnamese people! Also they perceived the Americans as invaders and to them it was liberation when the Americans left the country. And another interesting thing was the impression that the Vietnamese do not hate the Americans or Westerners in general because of the war, although it was such a cruel war. Really amazing!
Afterwards we walked to the Presidential Palace through the beautiful park. The palace is built in European style, but painted in yellow, the colour that symbolises wealth. Close by there is the house in which Ho Chi Minh used to live, also built in European style. However, the president was a very modest man and thought the house was too splendid. He wanted something simpler and had a house on stilts built for himself, just across a little lake from his former residency.
Afterwards we went to Hoan Kiem Lake, a lake surrounded by the French Quarter and not far from the Old Quarter. We took a
Hanoi: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Closed unfortunately because "Uncle Ho" is in Moscow for restoration.
walk around the lake and went to Jade Mountain Island. There is a beautiful red bridge that spans the water to the island, and on the island there is a temple that is surrounded by old trees, very scenic. We had lunch in a roof top restaurant with a nice view of the lake and then went for a walk around the lake. There is another small island in it that has a little pagoda on it, Turtle Tower. It is dedicated to a turtle. The legend is that a hero had found a magic sword while fishing in the lake and used it to fight against the Chinese who had occupied the country. Once he had defeated the enemy, a turtle emerged from the water of the lake and took back the magic sword that was not needed any more. We continued into the French Quarter, where all the 19th century houses are built in French style, including the Opera House.
Our next stop was the Temple of Literature, the ancient temple where the Mandarins were educated. It is a Confucian temple that consists of several courtyards and buildings, including several altars that are dedicated to different deities.
Hanoi: Presidential Palace
French style and all in yellow, the coulour symbolising wealth.
The courtyards are beautiful and quiet with their trees, bushes, and flowers. In one of them there is a building that contains stone turtles that carry big plaques with the names of successful graduates engraved on them. Of course there are the buildings in which students slept and studied, and there are a few temples where there are statues of Confucius and others. The temple seems to be very important for the Vietnamese even now since there were huge groups of students who had just graduated from university and were apparently celebrating their graduation in the temple. There were people taking pictures everywhere! I had the feeling that the spirit of wisdom and knowledge was still around. Also I realised that universities in the old days did not only teach students knowledge, they really educated them in the sense that they taught them ethics and values. This is something our modern schools and universities have lost, and that’s a shame because nowadays it is more necessary than ever with the world being such an interconnected place!
After visiting the temple we went back to our hotel quickly to get changed and then we went back to Hoan Kiem Lake
Hanoi: Hoan Kiem Lake
... and the bridge across to Jade Mountain Island.
to attend the Water Puppet Theatre (after having a very nice French tart!). This is a very special event you will only find in Vietnam. In the theatre there is a water basin with a little hut in its centre. In the hut there are the puppeteers behind a curtain. The puppets are attached to rods that stay under the water. The performance showed scenes from Vietnamese everyday life in the old days, when most people were farmers, but also a few myths and legends, including the story with the turtle that took back the sword. It was accompanied with live music and singing. The puppets were beautiful and created with a lot of heart and the puppeteers were very nimble. The show itself was designed with so much attention to detail and so full of imaginative ideas I could hardly believe it. An absolutely amazing show, we both really, really enjoyed it!
The next morning we were picked up early and taken to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is only 160 km from Hanoi, but still it took us four hours to get there. We were super happy when we finally arrived there and were taken to our boat
Hanoi: Jade Mountain Island
The small island in the lake that has a pagoda on it.
on which we were going to go on a two day cruise. The boat looked like one of the old junks and we had a nice little cabin there. The cruise started with a several course lunch up on deck. While eating we saw the amazing rocks of Halong Bay pass us as we made our way out into the bay. Our first stop was a limestone cave. We got off the boat and walked up a few steps. The cave itself was pretty much like any other limestone cave (I guess once you have seen a few you have seen them all), but the view of the bay we had from the entrance and the exit was just absolutely beautiful. We spent the rest of the day cruising between the rocks of the bay, had a huge and very tasty dinner up on deck and then enjoyed looking at the stars in the sky.
The next day was very busy. In the morning we climbed numerous stairs to the top of one of the rocks in the bay. We arrived there all yucky and sweaty, but the view of the bay was absolutely worth the effort. Halong Bay
Hanoi: Turtle Tower
... on Hoan Kiem Lake. It reminds the spectator of the legend when a hero was given a sword to defeat the Chinese and then had to give it back to a turtle that emerged from the lake.
is so much bigger than I had imagined. There are the famous rock formations as far as one can see. After getting back down from the rock we went for a very refreshing swim and then were picked up by another boat on which we would spend the afternoon because the other boat would take the two other couples that had been with us back to the mainland and then pick us up again later on. First we went to a fishermen’s village that consists of a few floating huts. People there live an extremely simple life and are very poor. But still, as we went past, one man invited us for lunch (which we of course politely declined). Afterwards we went paddling into two lagoons that are accessible by small boats only. We had to paddle through low caves in order to get there and enjoyed the peace and quiet there. After a quick dip in the water we had another big lunch and then had some time to rest and sleep before we were taken back to the boat we had been on first. The plan would have been to stay on the boat for a second night,
Hanoi: Courtyard in the Temple of Literature
There are a few gardens, each surrounded by a wall, with beautiful trees, bushes, and flowers. Very inviting for a walk!
but there was a cyclone approaching, and for safety reasons we were taken back to mainland and driven back to Hanoi to spend the night there.
The next morning we went for a ride in a rickshaw, which was, on the one hand, nice because it gave us another impression of the city, but, on the other hand, not so nice because of all the exhaust fumes in the air. We had the drivers drop us off at the Citadel so that we could have a look at it. However, there is not much left apart from the big gate at the entrance, a few nice stairs with dragon sculptures, and a few buildings. Afterwards we had a particularly nice lunch in a restaurant where one could watch how the dishes were prepared.
After lunch we were picked up and taken to Ninh Binh, also called Dry Halong Bay. There are the same rock formations as in Halong Bay, however, the rocks are not in the sea, but on dry land, surrounded by rivers and rice paddies. We had an awesome hotel there: it was still very new and designed like a traditional village with many little bungalows
Hanoi: Turtle steles in the Temple of Literature
... with the names of those successful at the royal exams.
in a wonderful garden, located out of town between rice paddies and lakes. When we arrived there it was pouring down with rain, so we just settled into our bungalow and had a wonderful dinner in the restaurant.
The next morning – it was my mum’s birthday – we visited two temples with our guide. We learned that the ancestors play an important role in Vietnamese everyday life. They are given altars and even (symbolic) furniture and food and there are statues of them in the temples. The city of Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and early 11th century before it was moved to Hanoi. Afterwards we went for a bicycle tour along the rice paddies and lakes, which was great because we got to places that are not easily accessible by car and that are rather quiet. Ninh Binh is not quite a touristy yet. After the bike tour we had lunch and then went on a boat trip down one of the rivers. We went in a small rowing boat, only the two of us and our guide and a lady that was rowing. The tour gave us a
Hanoi: Buidling in the Temple of Literature
... where the monks lived and studied Confucius.
good impression of how people live there, either as fishermen or as rice farmers. They are poor and their lives are very simple, but all of them have jobs, work very hard, and seem to be happy. At the very far end we stopped and our rower pulled out a few items she wanted to sell us. Funny situation, we were sitting on this boat in the middle of the river, could not go anywhere, and were being offered postcards, table cloths, and other souvenirs. Afterwards we had a little rest in our hotel and then another super nice dinner in the very same restaurant where we had had dinner the night before. Upon my request they had prepared a birthday cake and also some flowers for my mum. After dinner we went for a walk and enjoyed the view of the beautiful stars in the sky.
The next morning we had time for another little walk along the rice paddies before we were picked up and taken back to Hanoi. We had lunch on the way and then went straight to the airport to catch a plane to Hué in Central Vietnam. But that’s the next story!
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