Posts Tagged With: hanoi

31st May – Day 12 – Good morning, Vietnam

After last nights fun cycle tour and dinner, I slept really well and woke up at 6am naturally. These mornings are really becoming normal now!
After a small breakfast at 7, we met in the hotel lobby at 8:15 to head to the airport for our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Dek had given us a little longer in the hotel than he normally would, so we had a short wait in the airport before the flight – I bought a small sandwich and some green tea because the in-flight meals haven’t exactly been glorious so far!

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A step up from the inflight options, believe me

During the flight I went through my Peru photos with Karl and Petra, who are considering a trip to Peru as their next adventure. It was fun to relive the memories of that trip and to share it with some new friends.

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Obligatory plane selfie

The flight was fairly short and as expected, we were presented with a terrible in flight meal. I enjoyed my egg sandwich instead, and shortly after we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon. The city was renamed after the Vietnam war to honour the leader of the time, who still holds mountains of respect in the country.

One really weird thing about our arrival was that one of the first planes we saw when we touched down was a US air force transport plane.  It resounded with us just how monumental this could be, coming just a week after Barak Obamas visit in which he agreed to sell arms to the Vietnamese forces again. Perhaps this plane was carrying a shipment?

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An ominous delivery?

A short transfer in the airport and we were headed to our hotel – the Continental Hotel in District 1. District 1 is really fancy, and the hotel is stunning – it’s actually where all of the western journalists were based during the Vietnam war, so it’s got a pile of history itself. I was amused to see that Saigon is divided into districts, which reminded me of the Hunger Games – perhaps an unfortunate coincidence in a communist country.

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The continental hotel

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My room

Across the road from our hotel was an ATM and I easily withdrew 2 million dong to cover the next few days activities, then headed to my room to cool down before our first activity of the day. It’s really great how they pile these activities into travel days, so you’re not wasting any time in a new city.

At 3pm we met for our cyclo tour of the city – our second cyclo tour in as many days! Our guide in Saigon is called Tiger and he guided us around the city as we stopped in various locations. The first stop was at the Vietnam War Remnants museum, which had some US army helicopter and tanks outside. We were only given 30 minutes in the museum which was quite disappointing as it was nowhere near enough time to explore the whole place and in order to get a feel for it, we had to skim over a lot of the exhibits. It was actually pretty harrowing to read the local perspective on the war and hear some of the stories of the events of the war. I’m not going to cover too much of my opinion here, but there’s no denying that the after effects of the war are being felt by the Vietnamese people today and onwards.

Our next stop on the tour was “Reunification Palace” which has served as a royal palace as well as a political palace and was famous during the Vietnam war as the place where the gates were closed and helicopters lifted around a thousand Vietnamese out of the country during the ending of the war. We only had a chance for photos here before moving on with our Cyclos.

The next stop with our Cyclos was the Cathedral in Saigon which was built by the French in the style of Notre Dame. It’s really interesting how the occupants of these countries imposed their own religious style and beliefs upon the locals during the colonial times, and there are still many Catholics in Vietnam because of the French occupancy.

After our photos and explanations at the cathedral, we crossed the road to the Post Office – our final stop on the tour. The Post Office was historically very important in Vietnam and again the building style was very European, yet in the centre of the building was a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Now it’s a tourist attraction, with tons of small shops selling Vietnamese souvenirs at inflated prices.

Once we were photo’d out, our Cyclos brought us back to the hotel where we had a couple of hours to cool off and change before dinner. The hotel is in a really great location, so I was happy to relax there but used my time to go out to a local coffee shop.

At 7 we met Dek for a short walk to our dinner location – the famous Pho 2000, which was made famous by Bill Clinton visiting in the year 2000 (not sure what the name was before then) – this was seen by the Vietnamese as a huge sign of respect and the start of rebuilding their relations with the Americans. In the restaurant (which was a little place up the stairs at the back of a coffee shop), there are photos of Bill Clintons visit and the table where he sat has details of what they ordered. I chose the Vegetable Pho and a pineapple juice, and the food was really good – authentic and flavourful. Thankfully that place hasn’t turned into a huge tourist trap, and there were locals enjoying the food too.

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Pho 2000

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Pho fit for a president

After our dinner we walked around the Night Market where the sellers seemed really desperate and pushy – grabbing onto us and trying to lure us into their stalls where they all sell pretty much the same t-shirts. I like the Vietnam t-shirts but don’t really want to be pushed into it, so I’ll probably come back tomorrow alone when hopefully they will be a little less pushy!

For our journey tomorrow, Dek has warned us that there aren’t as many lunch opportunities so we stopped in a little convenience store to buy some snacks for the journey – I bought a pack of dried pineapple and some drinks, plus a bottle of ‘English Breakfast Tea’ – mainly because I really want to see how awful it is!

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It was predictably disgusting

It’s another 8am start tomorrow, so we headed to bed early-ish. I like Saigon, it’s got a real buzz about it.

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May 30th – Day 11 – Bay, Bus and Cyclos

Breakfast was quite basic but hey, we’re on a boat in the middle of Ha Long Bay and dining to scenery that many people wouldn’t believe even with their own eyes.  We had toast, fried eggs, some ‘laughing cow’ cheese and coffee.  Fine, but not luxury.

We were lucky with our morning position which meant that we were able to make it to a little island as the first boat to arrive, and when the island opened at 7:45am we had the chance to walk up the hill to a small pagoda or swim in the sea. I chose the both option, rushing up the hill with Yvonne and snapping a few photos before heading back down for a quick dip in the water before we had to move on.  It was really nice to cool down after the stairs upstairs, and the water was pretty pleasant even at 8am.

Our overnight view

Our overnight view

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

Dek in his classic pose

Dek in his classic pose

The view from the top, by  the pagoda

The view from the top, by the pagoda

Panorama

Panorama

Me at the pagoda

Me at the pagoda

Heading back down to swim

Heading back down to swim

Once we finished our swim, it was time to get back on the boat and head back to land. I grabbed a last shower in the boat (which was surprisingly good) and packed up my little day bag – the full bag had stayed in Hanoi at the hotel. We also had our bills to settle, and mine came to 471,000 for the drinks and kayaking – not the cheapest drinks in Vietnam, for sure!

Whilst the captain brought us back to land, the chef gave us all a demonstration of creating vegetable flowers for presentation including an intricate lattice carved from a carrot soaked in salt water for a few hours.  It was quite impressive and filled the time nicely as we headed back to the shore.

A cucumber flower in the making

A cucumber flower in the making

And the end result

And the end result

Latticework looks hard

Latticework looks hard

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Presentation time

Presentation time

The finished result

The finished result

A final stretch in the sun

A final stretch in the sun

Once the demo was over we only had a couple of minutes sailing left before we reached the harbour and disembarked from our overnight home.  A quick toilet break in the harbour and we boarded our bus to head back to Hanoi – another 4 hour run, meaning we would arrive in Hanoi after lunch time.  Dek had promised us a stop at a restaurant but what happened was we ended up at the statue place again, where we discovered the cafe was closed and were forced to buy overpriced snacks to keep us going.  I bought a couple of snacks and some postcards, and amused myself on the bus by going through some of the photos you’ve seen in the previous posts.

Once we arrived back in Hanoi, we checked back into the same hotel and they very efficiently dropped our bags back in our new rooms for us.  It was nice to get back into a proper hotel after a night on the boat, but the scenery was less glamorous.

Dek had told us about a Hanoi speciality which I really wanted to try – called Egg Coffee, it is literally a shot of coffee with whisked egg yolk on top. It’s a pretty odd sounding combination which meant I had to try it!  We met up after a few minutes in the hotel and headed to the cafe which is supposedly the origin of this recipe – originated as a solution to a milk shortage in Vietnam when the French occupied.  Navigating the busy streets of Hanoi is an acquired skill, since there are no zebra crossings or stop lights – it’s just a case of plucking up the courage and going for it – slowly – as you cross the road and mopeds zoom around you on either side.

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Moped mayhem

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No rules as to direction or speed

Cafe Giang was quite literally a back alley place, but perfect for it.  We ordered our egg coffees and they quickly appeared – the tradition is to stir everything together (good, since the egg on top could literally support the spoon when it arrived) and then drink… It was a taste sensation!

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Cafe Giang

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Egg Coffee

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After stirring

I really liked the taste – review sites have likened it to liquid tiramisu and that was exactly our conclusion as well.  Definitely try this if you go to hanoi!

Once we finished off our coffees, we had a little free time where I went to explore the city on foot.  The streets being arranged by business type takes a bit of getting used to, but makes a lot of sense.

In the early evening we met up again as a group for our Cyclo Tour – which would give us a chance to sample the city and the crazy traffic at extremely close quarters!  Our cyclos gave us a quick tour of the old city and the french quarter, which was fascinating and absolute mayhem at all the road junctions.  Talk about putting your life in the hands of someone – those cyclos aren’t the most manourverable things!

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Traffic craziness

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Cyclo selfie

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Picking our cyclo driver

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At points the traffic was fairly chaotic

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Peace globe

Our cyclo tour dropped us off at a training restaurant which is supported by Gadventures.  This restaurant helps disadvantaged teenagers train to be chefs, waiting staff and allows them to work in the restaurant setting to earn a small wage as well.

There was a set menu presented for us as part of our tour, including a simple noodle salad, spring rolls and some curried vegetables.  The food tasted good and it was nice to feel we were supporting a good cause.

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Noodle Salad

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Fresh spring rolls

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Dinner chat

Once we finished our dinner, we grabbed a normal taxi back (there were too many of us to justify tuktuks) and then I shared a beer with Karl and Petra on the hotels rooftop bar before we headed to bed – we had another 7am start coming!

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May 28th – Day 9 – Mountain, Millionaires and Motorcycles

In the peak season, the tour would move on to Vietnam in the morning on this day, but since we’re travelling in the off -season, Lao Airlines only flies in the afternoons to Hanoi, so we had a free morning in Luang Prabang. I was pretty happy about this since I’ve really enjoyed the pace of life in Luang Prabang and I wanted to explore their most famous site, the Phousi Mountain (don’t say it too quickly!).  At the top of the mountain is a small temple which can be seen from all over the town, and it offers spectacular views of the two rivers which converge just outside of Luang Prabang.

I started the day with an early breakfast, around 7, before heading out to the mountain before the heat of the day hit. The base of the mountain path was a short walk from the hotel, and I was able to make good time heading up – after paying my 20,000 kip entrance fee. Almost every tourist attraction seems to charge the same here!

It was 309 steps up to the top of the mountain, but it was worth it – I had the top to myself and could see all of the town, the rivers and the small temple as well. The sense of achievement in doing this was also worth it!

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A view of the river and Luang Prabang from the mountain

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Top of the mountain selfie

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The other side of the town

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The temple at the top

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No idea what this purple leaf is but it was really vibrant and visible throughout the town

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It was a steep walk up the mountain

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Selfie after making it back down

On the way back down I decided to go for another Lao coffee, having enjoyed it the day before. There was some confusion in the shop who seemed to think I wanted a take away coffee and gave me the boiling hot coffee and condensed milk in a plastic bag, like a goldfish at the fair. After clarifying my request, I was quickly brought a new one in a glass and enjoyed it just as much as the first, although I didn’t dare to try and communicate about the doughnut !

Once I got back to the hotel I quickly packed before going for a swim in the beautiful hotel pool. It was still not even 8:30! The early mornings on this tour really mean the day packs in things… I swam for half an hour and by that point some of the others emerged from their rooms.

Since it was so early, I went back to the room for a little cool off and a nap before checking out from the hotel.  I walked back into the town and explored a little of the old town, hunting out some gift shops and stopping for lunch in a tourist restaurant called The Pizza, which served terrible over priced pizza and drinks but I wanted to be gentle to my stomach after the upset yesterday – I also ordered ginger tea which seemed to help.  After I ordered the olive pizza, the waiter dashed out of the shop to a neighbouring supermarket and came back in with a pack of olives and some ginger. Got to love small towns!

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Olive pizza

With a couple of hours remaining in Luang Prabang once lunch was over, I went into a coffee shop for a cold drink and some aircon as well as free wifi… Honestly this day was a bit unnecessary but the flight schedules had determined we should stay until 3pm.

At 3 we regrouped and headed out to the airport, where check-in was smooth and allowed us a little more waiting before we boarded Laos Airlines QV313 to Hanoi.  The flight was pretty much a mirror image of our flight from Chiang Mai – an ATR plane, terrible box meal and a 45 minute hop.

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Laos airlines selfie

When we landed in Hanoi the sky was incredible – the clouds were so dark and low, it was clear a storm was about to hit and shortly after we left the airport, we were presented with a wonderful thunderstorm. The Vietnamese visa process for a UK passport holder was super easy- no paperwork at all, just handing over my passport and getting a stamp at the border. Some of the others had spent upwards of $200 on their Vietnam visas!

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Vietnams visa is somewhat simple after the crazy Laos ones

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Our luggage collection

In the airport I also changed some US Dollars into Vietnamese dong and once again became a millionaire – $1 was worth 22,240 dong so my $100 gave me 2.2 Million dongs!

Our trip to the hotel was in a nice big comfortable bus and we got to see a bit of the hubbub of Hanoi – our hotel was quite central in the city on ‘silk street’ (fittingly the hotel was the Golden Silk Hotel).  The streets of Hanoi are organised by what is sold there – so there is glasses street, coffee street, and beer street. Quite an efficient way of shopping, unless you want a lot of different things at once!

During our bus ride Dek gave us some tips about Vietnam – a country of 90 million people, and Hanoi – the capital city with over 8 million people and over 4 million motorcycles.  The constant ‘beep beep’ of the motorcycles and cars weaving in and out was infectious and I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring! We only got one night in Hanoi before our next destination, so we went on a short walk to Deks favourite local restaurant – called 96 Restaurant. Dek said they have one as well called 69 -although that sounds like a whole different dinner to me!

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Another hotel, another massive bed!

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Pineapple juice

Crossing the roads in Hanoi is something of an art form, as there is never really a break in the traffic – you just kind of ‘go for it’ when you want to cross, and the traffic avoids you. At first it sounds scary, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

At 96 Restaurant I had some fresh vegetable spring rolls and tofu with satay sauce,as well as a fruit juice and it cost 250,000 dong! That feels like a lot, but it’s really about $20.

Once back at the hotel, and safely across the roads again, I quickly replaced my day pack into an overnight pack since we couldn’t bring our full bags for the next day trip to Ha Long Bay.  Tomorrow would be another early start, setting off at 6:30 – so I got an early night again. Excited for tomorrow though – Ha Long Bay is one of my reasons for booking the trip!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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