Another day, another flight – well two on this occasion. We flew out of Osaka to Hanoi with a 5 hour stopover in Guangzou in China. It was unusual to be the only westerners (that we could see) on the flight but all the stewardesses seemed to speak perfectly good English. We were able to use the club lounge during the stop in Guangzou, which was a great way to relax before our next flight.
We landed at 11:30 pm in Vietnam and stayed in a very small family-run hotel close to the airport. When we woke up in the morning it was strange to see fields with buffalo and farmers in pointed hats toiling away. In some ways it felt as if they were putting it on for the tourists, but that’s just how they live. Our hotel in Hanoi city then came to pick us up to take us to their hotel (the Royal Palace) in the centre of the old town in Hanoi (fancy).
One thing you learn when travelling in Asia, is just because the hotel has a fancy name, doesn’t mean it is a fancy hotel! Our hotel was on a main street. We had a very nice, old style, colonial room, but the outer walls seemed to only be mde of wood, so the road noise was pretty intrusive, luckily we took ear plugs.
We took to Hanoi straight away. It’s a busy, buzzing place with industrious people going about their business. We grabbed lunch locally in a first floor cafe and watched the world go by, then wandered around the Hoan Kiem lake in the city centre. It was a Saturday and the roads around the lake were shut to traffic in the evening. It was here that we grabbed our first taste of many excellent meals in Hanoi, followed by an early night as we were still shattered from the travelling.
The next day (Sunday) we went exploring proper. We wandered around the old town, had a good walk around the lake and in the afternoon we went to the Citadel via the Army Museum (we didn’t go in, we just looked at the tanks and helicopters on the outside).
The Citadel is a huge complex that only used to be accessable to Vietnam’s leaders. In the centre of the complex there is more modern building called D67 which was the command centre for the Northern Vietnam forces during the war. It is a huge contrast to the rest of the Citadel, but worth a look especially as you can visit the bunkers underneath the site.
There are a lot of places to see and things to do in Hanoi, but we also took the opportunity for some down time. We didn’t go to Halong Bay, which we knew would be amazing, but we decided to stop trying to fit absolutely everything in (as it was becoming a bit exhausting, not least because of the heat and humidity).
We still managed to see the Temple of Literature (another large site, and before going in which we had a fantastic rice noodle soup and peach tea in a small local restaurant), Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum (well from the outside, as his body was being re-embalmed elsewhere), the French-style Opera House, the Water Puppet show (all in Vietnamese – that was interesting….), and also frequented a number of coffee shops, bars and local restaurants whilst soaking up the atmosphere of Vietnam.
The local food was a real highlight of Hanoi, with memorable dishes such as Pho (rice noodle soup pronounced ‘fur’, popular for breakfast too), Lau (a sharing stew where you add raw meat and vegetables to a pre-prepared broth and cook it yourself over a burner), street BBQs (meat, fish and vegetables, deep fried spring rolls, to name just a few dishes.
The Temple of Literature
It’s happening again
In the UK, you tell your children never to speak to strangers. In Vietnam they openly encourage their kids to talk to westerners. On the Sunday we were at Hoan Kiem lake, we were approached multiple times by older students and children all wanting to speak English. You daren’t stop for a moment. I sat down and a boy came and spoke to me, and then a queue formed behind him (seriously).
We spoke to the group above and had 8 identical conversations, the questions were:
Where are you from
How do you like the special Vietnamese food
How big is your family
How many seasons does your country have
What was the agricultural output in dollars for the UK in 2015 (OK – I made that one up)
Another younger girl who was talking to Dawn for ages actually spoke the best English of anyone we spoke to in Hanoi. Dawn had just started looking at our book about Hanoi & Vietnam when the girl came over. During the conversation she leafed through the book, looking things up via the index and making recomendations of things we might want to see and where we should go (one of which we will discuss in a later blog). After this we learnt our lesson, don’t sit down anywhere with a book, and don’t stop or hesitate around the lake, or you will be chatted to (in the nicest possible way).
We decided to leave Hanoi a day early so we could take the overnight train to Hue (pronounced way). Excited to at last be taking a sleeper.