Another adventure. The vietnam blog is in 3 parts covering 10 days in this amazing country.
Our rescheduled flight was 10 minutes late so a Kuala Lumpur we had just 40 minutes to get from domestic arrivals to a different gate in international departures, and board our flight! Luckily, our baggage was checked through to Hanoi. We made the flight…phew! 3 and a half hours later we are the last ones standing at the empty luggage carousel… no cases!
Malaysia airlines soon verified they were still in KL. We only had the clothes we were wearing! They promised they would reach our hotel by midnight!
We headed to the charming La Selva hotel. Friendliest place ever, right in the old quarter of Hanoi, a tangled network of old streets, crowded with houses and shops and piggybacked cables! Delhi all over again, and I love it. The traffic is almost as crazy, but there are many more motorbikes than cars or push bikes. 7 million people and 5 million motorbikes!! “When you want to cross, just step out and keep walking” was the advice we were given. Unbelievably, it worked. We walked around the central lake, visiting the temple dedicated to a giant turtle who was the guardian of a special sword that saved the city. Every temple is full of offerings of food because of the Tet holiday. Chinese New Year. In Vietnam, everyones birthday is New years day. Their age is counted from the New years day after they were born.
Then through the gardens into the French quarter, where the opera house was a copy of the one in Paris.
French colonial architecture is apparent everywhere, especially in government owned buildings. The french influence is also clear when you see much more wine on the menu than elsewhere in Asia!
At 6.30 we had a date with the Hanoi street food tour! A 3 hour walk around the old quarter, sampling typical street food. It is so busy. Everyone seems to sit on the pavement and eat. Vietnam must have a monopoly on small, plastic childrens stools.
We aren’t sure how the places we visited would score on a food hygeine assessment, but the foods were delicious, including egg coffee!
At 00.30 am our cases were delivered… which was lucky because we needed to repack! The next morning we were collected by a driver and guide for a 2 day trip to rural Vietnam at Ninh binh. En route we saw some beautiful hand embroidery, and a very unusual way of differentiating mens and ladies loos!
In this lovely area, we visited one of the most important temple complexes in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh temples and pagoda, with a huge happy buddha statue, and a pagoda that can be seen for miles around. It was all built in 2004, but it seemed ancient. It was built on an epic scale. 500 golden buddhas line the parallel stairways. I imagine we felt rather like people in georgian England getting the chance to see a newly built mansion and marvelling at its size and beauty.
Onto a river trip through the lovely Karst limestone scenery, and into caves… in a small boat rowed by a diminutive lady, using only her feet!!!
Then to a very rural homestay in a lovely garden. A vast dinner with our guides.
Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Especially the house geckos, who chirrup every so often! A HUGE breakfast… they just kept bringing more food – we had to politely say no to the beef noodle soup AFTER the omelettes, salad, bread and fruit!!!
Then an early morning boat trip in bamboo boats through a tranquil National Park. Lots of birds, and as we were proudly told.. this was where they filmed King Kong. They pointed out the location of various scenes, ” you know…skull island” ” you know… fight with giant lizard”. We nodded sagely and didn’t let on we hadn’t seen it!
Gosh… is it 12 noon, must be time for another huge meal! Then a visit to 2 temples dedicated to 2 kings who saved Vietnam from the Chinese. Finally we return to our hotel in Hanoi, where they greet us like long lost friends.
Our last day in Hanoi started with a guided walk with 2 charming University students, Kim and Kelly. They volunteer with the Hanoi Kids scheme which provides free tours in exchange for english conversation practise. Brilliant scheme.
We went past Ho chi Minh’s tomb. Queues stretched in every direction to file past the tomb of their hero ‘Uncle Ho’. Apparently, even 48 years after his death, people wait 3 – 4 hours to see his embalmed body. That is fame! We walked past beautiful french colonial buildings, now government offices and embassies, and visited the pagoda on the lake.
Finally, the awe inspiring Temple of Literature and Academy, first built in the 10th century and dedicated to Confucious, it is the oldest University in Vietnam.
We loved the old bookcarriers – an early uncomfortable rucksack!
Historically, students had to bring their own tent which they sat in to do exams, so they couldn’t cheat!
Nowadays, students come here to pray for exam success, and to take graduation photos. In so many Asian countries, education is seen as a very necessary privilege. Typically school is 5.5 days a week, with lessons from 7.30 – 12 00 and 3.00 – 6.00. A lot of children do extra classes in the evenings.
We treated ourselves to a super lunch at Cao duc, then mooched around Hanoi, before an early night, due to an early morning flight to Hue.
Some random images of Hanoi including some very narrow houses, dating from the days when taxes were based on just the width of your plot! !