From Chiang Mai, Thailand, we took a direct flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. The climate between the two places were about the same: hot, humid and rainy. It was the first time for both of us to visit Vietnam. We did not know what to expect but expected some similarities to Thailand. The immediate observation was that it’s louder, more crowded and more chaotic than Thailand. Our first week, we stayed in Hanoi, Old Quarters. The streets are narrow and each street has its own specialty.
Old Quarters is one of the busiest neighborhoods in Hanoi and packed with tourists, hotels and restaurants. One of the highlights was Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as “Lake of the Restored Sword”. The city has created a nice park around the lake with beautiful flower beds and lots of trees which allow for nice shades during the hot days and a chance to enjoy a break on one of the many benches. In the middle of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple, meaning “Temple of the Jade Mountain”.
Hoan Kiem Lake parkHanoi, Vietnam
Hoan Kiem LakeHanoi, Vietnam Hanoi OperaVietnam Hanoi French Quarter Vietnam One of the challenges that we embraced right away was crossing the streets like a local. Streetlights when there were any, are only a suggestion. We saw vendors selling t-shirts with the writing: “Vietnam Traffic Lights Laws. Green light: can go. Yellow light: can go. Red light: still can go. Very apt description. Cars, motorbike, bicycle and pedestrians all moved along and crossed the street whenever needed and possible and seemingly impossible. There was a lot of honking to notify the person in front of you: I am behind you and I am passing you. We always held our breath and crossed the street. Luckily, we made it each time unharmed. Strangely enough, we didn’t see a single accident, somehow you find a little order in the chaos by making eye contact and acknowledge your presence and intention. It also means never hesitate when crossing.
Crossing the street Hanoi StyleVietnam, Hanoi
Another highlight for us in Old Quarter was the “Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre”. According to one description we read the tradition started when: “rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water. Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.” Even though the performance was all in Vietnamese, it was easy to follow and very entertaining to watch the puppets move across the water inside the theater to beautiful live music. The ArtistsThang Long Water Puppet Theatre, Hanoi Vietnam
After 8-days in Hanoi, fighting the flu even though we had gotten the flu shot, then a stomach bug, we took a bus to Tam Coc, a small place just outside of Ninh Binh about 2 hours south of Hanoi. We chose this place as an alternative to Ha Long Bay. We heard about and read tons of scams around going to Ha Long Bay so we decided to check out the “HaLong Bay on-land”. The day we arrived; it went from heavy rain to light rain nonstop with very few breaks in between for 3 days straight. Later we learned that there was a typhoon going through the area.
For all the Frenchies - It's a frog farm!Tam Coc, Vietnam Local marketTam Coc Duck vendorYes we had duck Quacking on the street during the dayRoast by night CemeteryTam Coc, Vietnam Water buffalo in paddyNear Mua Cave, Vietnam Tourist HarborTam Coc, Vietnam Paddy SunsetTam Coc, Vietnam Obliviate Scooter JuiceGas station Tam Coc style
Goat and gutsOn the road side The day the rain finally cleared up happened to be a National holiday, Vietnam’s Independence Day, September 2. On this day, in 1945, President Hồ Chí Minh read the Declarations of independence of Vietnam. Many Vietnamese travel this weekend and we were among the many hiking up the Mua Cave or Hang Mua, which means “dancing cave”. Belief has it that it was named so because Tran king used to come here and enjoyed watching dancing and singing performances. The site is a miniature model of the Great Wall of China. The hike up consisted of 486 steps to the top and offered a good panorama of the area. At one point you go right to reach the pagoda or left to reach the dragon snake.
Mua CaveTam Coc, Vietnam It's crowded on the topMua Cave, Vietnam Mua Cave PanoramaTam Coc, Vietnam Mua Cave PagodaTam Coc, Vietnam High heels?Mua Cave, Vietnam Mua CaveTam Coc, Vietnam Selfie road blockSelfie Madness Don't look at the viewSelfie Sadness During our 8-days in Tam Coc, we stayed at a lovely homestay where it was beautiful, quiet and the owner was super nice and honest. From there, we rented a motorbike to get around easier and visited several sites. Hoa Lu which served as the capital of the area during the 10th and 11th century. Bich Dong Pagoda has three temples built within the limestone mountain, the lower, the middle and the upper. There were over 100 steps to reach the top. The view is pretty nice from the upper temple. There was not much more information on the site so not sure when it was built. We also did two boat rides. One at Trang An which went into 4 caves and around 3 temples. The movie “Kong: Skull Island” was filmed here. The second boat ride was at Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve which is supposed to be the largest wetland natural reservation area in the north Delta.
Starry night Tropical Homestay Tam Coc, Vietnam
The Lotus pickerTam Coc, Vietnam Bich Dong Pagoda EntranceTam Coc, Vietnam Bich Dong PagodaTam Coc, Vietnam Bich Dong PagodaTam Coc, Vietnam Bich Dong PagodaTam Coc, Vietnam View from Bich Dong PagodaTam Coc, Vietnam Bursting BubbleReal Estate Boom, Tam Coc Vietnam Hoa LuVietnam Hoa LuVietnam Hoa LuVietnam Hoa LuVietnam Hoa LuVietnam Trang AnVietnam Trang AnVietnam
Tree BuddhaTrang An, Vietnam Van Long wetlandsVietnam Van Long wetlandsVietnam
King FisherVan Long wetlands, Vietnam
Van Long wetlandVietnam After a lot of research trying to find an honest travel agency to take us to Ha Giang in the North of Vietnam, we had finally zeroed in on an agency. We met them in person and exchanged a lot of emails to finalize our trip. But in the 11th hour we decided not to go. It’s a long story, but in short, they turned out to be scammers as well. Disappointed, we made the decision to go back to Hanoi for a few more days and then head out. We were really excited to come to Vietnam and even got a 3 months visa but truth to be told, we were getting scammed nearly every day. Mostly on small levels, but we got tired of it. Most people were friendly, helpful and warm but every day, we met someone that was aggressive, ready to scam us and pushy. We’ll choose to remember Vietnam for the lovely people we met, and the nice experience we had and forget the rest.
Happy fruit vendorsHanoi, Vietnam Our last few days in Hanoi, we stayed at another location about 3km from Old Quarters near the train station. Just outside of our hotel, on the streets, was the last of the original markets. It was daily and you could buy anything you needed: vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, clothes and household items.
When you know how the pig is washedHanoi, Vietnam
Repair shopHanoi, Vietnam
Street ButcherHanoi, Vietnam
Find the headHanoi, Vietnam
Sleeping on the jobHanoi, Vietnam
Seafood marketHanoi, Vietnam Wrap it upHanoi, Vietnam
Fish marketHanoi, Vietnam Select the right pieceHanoi, Vietnam Better look goodHanoi, Vietnam Street foodHanoi, Vietnam From our hotel, we were very close to several historical sights and we could easily walk to them. This time, we got smart like the locals and used an umbrella to protect us from the sun. The best $3 ever spent! We checked out the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070 and is one of several temples dedicated to the teaching of Confucius. You can see the temple on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng bill. Then Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum which serves as the resting place of Hồ Chí Minh who was president from 1945 until his death 1969. It is a typical example of communist brutalism architecture. Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and was constructed in the 6th century. The pagoda has gone through several name changes and relocation. The tower is 15 m (49 feet) high and has 11 tiers that are designed to represent the petals of a lotus flower.
Temple of LiteratureHanoi, Vietnam
Temple of LiteratureHanoi, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh's resting placeHanoi, Vietnam
National assembly buildingHanoi, Vietnam
West lake panoramaHanoi, Vietnam Tran Quoc PagodaHanoi, Vietnam Before leaving Hanoi, we made sure one day, early enough before noon, to try the famous “egg coffee”. They beat an egg with sugar and then pour the coffee over. The story we read was that they substituted an egg for the lack of milk during the war. In essence, it is a coffee eggnog. The one we had could use a dash of fortification.
Egg CoffeeHanoi Vietnam Also, before leaving SE Asia, we were excited to find rose apple, a fruit we like and did not find in Thailand. Delicious, watery and crispy. We also got some more Mangosteen, longan, mango and custard apple. Rose AppleHanoi, Vietnam As we were leaving the city, we enjoyed the site of the world’s longest mosaic wall which runs about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). The project began in 2007 and was completed in 2010 for the 1,000-year celebration of the establishment of Hanoi. Several dozens of Vietnamese and international artists and children participated in the making. There is a new design about every 100 meters (328 feet).
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Next stop: Taiwan for a week.
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