Hanoi was hot. Like crazy 40 degree heat, can’t do anything kind of hot. Which put a mild damper on our excitement to finally be in Vietnam and meet up with our youngest sister, Jess!
We started out at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. What an odd place. This is where the communist party has kept the embalmed body (against his wishes- he wanted to be cremated) of their former leader Ho Chi Minh out on display. It’s a popular activity run with (literally) military precision- no bags, no photos, no stopping- which marches you around the large complex and through the mausoleum. It’s rather weird.
We also visited the temple of literature dedicated to studies, books and all good things, a beautiful place. It was serving as a backdrop for a school graduation whilst we were there so the place was full of students in their gowns, so lots of happy faces around!
We went on a quick tour of the prison (otherwise known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’) which paints a picture of the revolutionaries planning and eventually overthrowing the French. The French influence on Hanoi is remarkable. The old opera house and surrounding buildings stand out as gems left behind from the French rule.
Our time in Hanoi marked the beginning of the rainy season as, on the way back from an awful water puppet theatre show, a storm moved in. A taxi ride to a restaurant for dinner proved eventful as the pouring rains and strong winds brought branches and leaves down and motorcyclists abandoned their bikes in the middle of the roads. You could see the riders huddling together under any shelter they could find.
The next morning showed further devastation as we passed a house that had a huge tree through it!
We had an overnight trip to Halong Bay planned and though the weather was a bit rubbish it was still enjoyable. The scenery is of course beautiful but also very similar to what we’ve seen in Thailand and even in Taiwan to a certain degree. The evening spent squid fishing was different at least. Not that we caught anything… (I think we were tricked and there aren’t really squid here!).
From Hanoi we took an overnight train to Hue. The trains here are quite different from Thailand. We had a little cabin for four people, two upper and two lower berths- no seats. It’s nicely air conditioned and clean enough though because of the size and seating arrangement, it would’ve been really awkward if you didn’t know the people you were sharing with… Luckily I did and we had a great time!
Hue was cool. Or at least I thought so but I think I’m a bit biased because of the day we spent there we spent most of it on motorbikes touring the town and countryside and the evening was spent doing rice wine shooters… All in all a good time was pretty much guaranteed!
Next on the agenda was a bus ride via the Marble Mountain to Hoi An, the home to over 300 tailor shops. Hoi An is so pretty! The old town really made me think I was in Disneyland, in one of those lands where they try to make it look like traditional old towns from around the world. Really, really picturesque. We had 3 nights here, plenty of time for Cat and Jess to get suits made and to do other things. Cat and I did a photo tour whilst Jess did a cooking class. The photo tour took us to a fishing village at the crack of dawn to see the local fishermen bring their catches in. When they reach the shore, the women take the fish in and sort and seperate them ready for sale. We also saw some of the traditional basket boats in action. They look so funny! It was an interesting slice of local life we managed to see here.
We also went to the beach (a 20 minute bike ride, or in our case a 5 minute taxi ride, away) for half a day. The beaches here are pretty quiet, just expanses of soft yellow sand and the sea. There are a few restaurants along the edge of the beach and we had some delicious fresh spring rolls here.
A short flight later and we were in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam. The sea of motorbikes in every direction proved that. On the whole I wasn’t that impressed with Saigon as a city- very much like other places we’ve been to. We visited the Cu Chi tunnels- an important site to the Vietnam War as it was a hub of the Viet Kong. The tour takes you into the tunnels themselves and shows you how he soldiers would’ve lived and fought back then- pretty horrendous conditions. We went to a couple of BBQ restaurants- both different. The first had a specialty of BBQ prawns. These massive prawns are brought to the table skewered and alive and you pop them straight onto the grill in front of you to cook how you like. You can still see their feeler and legs move whilst they’re cooking! The second had a variety of rather interesting foods- frog legs, scorpions, worms… Not really my cup of tea but definitely entertaining!
Our last dat in Vietnam was spent on a day trip to the Mekong delta where we took a boat tour of several islands in the vicinity to see how the locals live, to see local fruit farms, honey bee keepers and the production of coconut candy. The fruit was amazing- pineapples, lychee, longan, jackfruit, dragonfruit, cocoa bean. They even let us pick some of the tree to eat! We also tried the local delicacy of the elephant ear fish which we had deep fried and served in a fresh spring roll- so yummy!
Vietnam was a lovely place once you forget about the atrocities that were committed there. Things like visiting the Cu Chi tunnels- which really is a must- is a reminder of how recent the war was (still within my parents’ lifetime) and how awful things can get but it also shows the comparison of how far the country has come and much it is currently prospering. The Vietnamese are some of the most hard working people I’ve ever met and I’m sure that things will only get better. On the other hand if you want to see the more untouched quiet side to Vietnam, go sooner rather than later. It’s only going to get busier…