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Published: February 21st 2016
We arrive at the very warm welcoming Rendezvous hotel in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Nearly every shop front, hotel or business seems to be the width of a lock up garage. Even the width of our hotel room is the width of the hotel. We decided to put any ideas of what we will do in Hanoi until after we have had a good kip.
Stepping out of our hotel, or anywhere in central Hanoi is like stepping out into a Hurricane, in this case a hurricane of Hondas, Suzuki, Yamahas, Vespa’s or any small cc’ed motorcycle transport you can think of. It’s easy to chuckle to see from our extremely regulated traffic, to the seemingly chaotic non regulated driving system here, especially when you see people riding 3 or 4 on a bike, all manner of cargos, a fridge, a 8x6 sheet of something?, piles of food boxes, several of those water dispensers attached, not to mention the guy with the Mandarin tree! Most frightening of all is when somebody barges their way into un-traffic lighted junction when most traffic is going against their flow! But somehow it works and in the days to come we
hadn’t seen one accident?
When you think of Vietnam most people of our generation will think of the war in the 1960-70’s, and what the Vietnamese call the ‘American war’. I first wanted to visit Hoa Lo Prison, or what famously became known to American prisoners of war, the Hanoi Hilton. Although I associated the French built prison with that war, the museum made more of the armed struggle against French colonial rule which finally ended in 1954. As we went around there were cells, shackles, torture implements even a guillotine.
Along the road was the Vietnamese Women Museum, which as the name implies goes into various aspects of women’s life and also the role women played in the armed struggles in this country, and many courageous and brave stories were told.
Most hotels seem to organise their own tours and although weren’t pressurized, they do emphasise you may be ripped off if you go elsewhere. As we made botch attempts at street food in China we decided to take a walking street food tour of Hanoi. If you ever go to Hanoi do take a map especially of the old
quarter as every narrow road looks the same. Our friendly guide, set off at a rate of knots, 300yds down the street to our first stop and told to take a seat. Most seats they sit on are a foot off the ground, and was given our first dish to try, Bun Bo a combination of lettuce, herbs, rice noodles, sauté beef and bean shoots and crushed nuts. For the next three hours we called in various spots trying out the local beer Bia hoi, also other dishes Banh cuang, some fried eel, finished off with sticky rice ice cream. It certainly gave us more confidence to try things, he also taught us how to cross the road when faced with many aforementioned motor traffic, you just have to go for it, and amazingly they do avoid you, in fact if you hesitate, or go back, it is possibly the worst thing you can do!
In our relatively short time in Hanoi, one of must see places in Vietnam is the Halong Bay, a bay of gigantic limestone rocks, jutting out of the water. We took a 2 day one-night boat trip to tour the bay, but
only after a nearly 4 hour bus ride to get there. It was well worth the effort, our boat was sumptuously appointed right out of an Agatha Christie novel, with comfortable ensuite cabin, balcony and lovely meals to boot. It is a popular trip and to that end not just ours but many boats set off in a flotilla to explore these massive stone structures. As part of the trip we also stopped off at a massive cave, were given a Kayak to paddle a few bays and did Thai chi on top deck at 6.30am!
Last day, we jumped into a rickshaw and had an exciting journey weaving through the Hanoi traffic, I think he was struggling with the peddling with us both on board, but I think he should have paid us for keeping him fit!
We seem to have explored a lot of cities since we started our adventure so we are going to aim for the Phong Nha national park, but to get there we have a 10 hr overnight train ride, and unfortunately we missed out on tickets for the beds, so a seat it will be….
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Are you planning to go to Saigon? I arrived into Vietnam in Saigon and was blown away by the insane crazy Vietnamese driving / riding! I also started a new hashtag in my head - #thethingsyouseeonbikes I thought Hanoi was quite sedate compared to Saigon, but I was in Hanoi at the end of my trip so maybe I was used to it by then. I also loved the stillness and serenity of Ha Long Bay. Such a beautiful place.
Kim&Ali's Bigger Adventure
Hi Shona Just finished Vietnam. I thought Hanoi was mad but Saigon was worse. It would make a good hashtag there is plenty of material