There are so many places/countries we would like to visit while in China that making a choice within the time we have left is becoming very difficult. We know we are fortunate to be here and would like to make the most of it. Amongst the many places in our list, Vietnam was one that we have heard so much about; all of it positive. So we decided to go to Hanoi for a couple of days and then for a brief cruise around the highly regarded Ha Long Bay; we were not disappointed.
For those who remember the Vietnam war, seems hard to believe that Americans are now so well received in Vietnam. While still under a communist regime we found it hard to tell in view of the general feel of openness and capitalistic commerce seen everywhere. As with many other Asian countries, tourism is growing at a very rapid pace. In fact, many of these places maybe starting to lose some of their charm since the volume of tourism is changing what you see and how locals behave towards you (they see you as a very good source of income – cannot blame them there, they have little compared to a Westerner).
Note: our Vietnam plans were impacted by a Typhoon that came from the Philippines, hit the center of Vietnam on Sunday, passed by Hanoi on Sunday evening and hit Ha Long Bay area on Monday. So, we had to move our Ha Long Bay cruise to the back-end of our visit and shorten it by two days. We were grateful we could move it and get a refund for the day we could not use due to the Typhoon. Thumbs up for our tour agency (Haivenu tours); they were very helpful and fair – we highly recommend them.
Usually I try to keep the number of pictures for each post under 15. In this case, I will need to make an exception to give you a feel for our Vietnam trip in only one post. Let’s go and review how we did together…
One of the two hotel rooms we stayed in while in Hanoi. Must say that the rating of 3 stars was deceiving. Both hotels — Hanoi Moment and the Golden Lotus hotel were much better than any other 3 star hotel I have even been in. Especially at $55/day with breakfast included. A real great deal!
At breakfast we had a wide choice of western and or Vietnamese breakfast. My wife loved the decorations on each drink. This one made out of a carrot slice – the mango juice was great.
This was my most favorite breakfast. The Vietnamese chicken rice noodle soup was amazing and the red-hot peppers added a great warm kick to it. Noodle soup (Pho) is the traditional breakfast soup here.
Our hotels were located in the city old quarters. A very densely populated portion of the city with very narrow streets and small businesses in every available space. This second floor balcony was across our hotel window, like how most of the balconies had some sort of plants making them look a lot nicer.
As Hanoi was occupied by the French (1873) their influence can be seen on many things, especially the architecture in old Hanoi and the French quarter. This is one example across our hotel. Many of the homes in Hanoi are only 4 meters (13 feet) and from 15 to 25 meters long (49 to 82 feet). One way to maximize the number of homes in a block I would think.
Our Sunday was a rainy one. What to do after visiting a couple of historical sites? Go to the top of a popular building filled with restaurants and bars to have a coffee and look down on those getting wet below you. Here my wife is having her coffee with our guide – Quinn (Guyen).
What do people below do? Take pictures of those above taking pictures of them…and so on, and so on.
Many of the customs we saw in Vietnam are very much like those found in China. No wonder, since the Chinese occupied Vietnam for over 1,000 years. Lack of refrigeration on food items Westerners always keep under control is one obvious one. Must say it does not seem to bother the locals one bit. Weather was muggy and around 78 F when I took this picture.
As I mentioned below, noodle soup is one of the main staple foods in Vietnam. Street vendors cater to this craving by taking over portions of a sidewalk and erecting their portable restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner times. This happy lady just sat down and it is getting ready to start. Believe it or not-she has everything she needs neatly stacked; bowls, pre-cooked noodles, broth, eating utensils and the very popular miniature plastic seats. More on those below. Saw many Westerners eating on this “outdoor” restaurants; we decided to stay with the hotel option.
Another examples of a street side butcher. This time it looks like we are selling pork and maybe lamb.
The traditional Vietnamese hats; a big hit with many tourists. Amazing the number of these of Westerners you see in the airport wearing them as they return to whatever country they call home. We saw this guys several times; he was selling each time we saw him.
My wife auditioning for a potential part-time job. She quickly changed her mind as soon as she found that these contraptions are a lot heavier than they look. I confirmed this to be true. The lady actually stopped us and gave my wife her baskets for a photo-op. She was very nice and told us she wanted no money for it; that was a new twist.
A familiar sight for us by now having lived in China for almost two years. Incense offerings in a popular temple in Hanoi.
As we were visiting the museum of literature, we saw a group of college girls taking a class portrait. I just could not resist this photo opportunity. Young Vietnamese girls getting ready to take on the world.
We visited Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and visited the adjacent presidential palace and Ho Chi Minh’s residency until his death in 1969 at 79 years of age. Ho Chi Minh was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong (NLF or VC) during the Vietnam War. This building, built during the French occupation, is primarily used today to welcome other countries heads of state and other important government events.
We also were lucky to visit the “Hanoi Hilton”. In reality, it was the prison the French built and used to house locals that rebelled against French imperialistic demands. It was also used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war to hold US prisoners of war. The most famous of those being John McCain. Quite a place and recommended as a must see when in Hanoi.
By far the most popular pastime in Hanoi seems to be…sit in a little plastic stool and watch the world go by while you have a refreshment. These little stools are everywhere and cannot think of any other place we have been where I have seen more. in this picture and the next three you see a view of three corners of the same intersection. In this corner you have locals exclusively.
On this one you seem to only have tourist…chilling, watching, talking. Just seemed like a great time to me. Specially for taking pictures.
Finally, on this corner a mix of locals and tourists. Quite a busy street, but happened to catch it at a low point in the evening. The inside of this place is virtually empty, so they are not sitting outside because inside is full. I think people watching is great; they take it to the next level in Hanoi.
As mentioned before, the old quarter is filled with businesses every inch of available frontage. It seems like the thing to do for each business owner is to sit on your little plastic stool, watch the world go by and hopefully make eye contact with a passing pedestrian. Once that eye contact is made, you are in for the final kill.
In this picture the shop owners do not seem to happy as the flow is almost not existent. The owner in the center is using this break to dig for some nasal items in need of rearranging.
Ha Long Bay
On our way to Ha long Bay; a four-hour car drive (including a 30 minute break at a tourist store). As we cross one river this motorcyclist looks at us probably wondering … what do you find so fascinating here?
Rice is one of the largest crops in Vietnam (5th in the world). Can you believe that coffee is also huge in Vietnam? I had no idea that Vietnam was the 4th top coffee producer in the world.
Here we see a common site you see outside Hanoi. Rice being dried on people’s drive ways. Many farmers have small plots of land to cultivate what they need for their own needs and maybe a little to sell. Rice is a big portion of what they grow and harvest it twice or three times per year. Once harvested and separated from the stalks the rice still with the husk is spread out on drive ways and even along the side of the roads to dry before the husk can be removed. Hard living in many areas of the world. We are spoiled in so many ways.
From Super Cuts to Side Street Cuts!
Imaging it is quite inexpensive.
We arrived at Ha Long Bay – a UNESCO world heritage site – and it was great to see the weather was a lot nicer than the Saturday we tried to go on the cruise. This is the boat we were in.If you like to do a cruise in Ha Long Bay we highly recommend the Paradise Luxury line. They were great in everyday.
We visited Sung Sot cave in Bo Hon island, by far the largest cave we have ever seen. It covers 10,000 square meters (170,000 sq. feet). The number and beauty of the many formations that have taken thousands of years to form is quite striking. Another must see attraction if you visit Vietnam. Took many other pictures as you can imagine, but must keep the posting to a reasonable amount…I think I already went over it – sorry.
On the way out of the caves, you see street..no…boat vendors selling you the fresh catch of the day. On the way to the caves we saw a few boat villages where this people live. Literally floating homes with flaring walkways connecting the various homes. They use the green net with the long handle you see in the center to reach for many and deliver the goods to the tourists above. Some of the offerings are being kept fresh in the submerged baskets.
The food on the boat we were on was great…really great. The service also top-notch.
Before dinner the crew held a cooking lesson. We learnt to make Vietnamese spring rolls..yum. Each person took a turn and as expected it became a race.
Here I am rolling my own and beating my competition to it…was there any doubt?
In addition to many hot and delicious dishes in the dining room we also had the option of grilled marinated chicken, clams, squid, steak and prawns. Real nice again.
Ending the evening with a nice glass of red wine and enjoying the moon lit night in Ha Long Bay. Does not get much better than this. We were very thankful for the opportunity.
This was the morning look we had from our room. The day again started with great weather. We were very lucky to be able to rearrange our itinerary around the typhoon.
Local residents of one of the floating fishing villages in Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay is quite beautiful and different from other bays we have been in. There are hundreds of the type of rock formations you see here. Different shapes, size and amount of green make this such a beautiful place.
As we get closer to the end of the cruise we had our picture taken to assure we remember this moment and share it with you. Thanks for visiting and hope the length of this post did not turn you off.