My husband and I went to Vietnam recently for a long weekend. We had an amazing time, experiencing the vast difference between bustling city life of Hanoi and the peaceful quietness of the ocean at Ha Long Bay.
We spent a couple of days in Hanoi, which as the capital of Vietnam is a thriving city, having experienced a rapid boom in industrial production since the 1990’s. It is made up of small buildings that seem to have been built on top of and around each other in a type of shanty town style. The streets are absolutely bustling, and you have to be careful when you walk not to get run over by bicycles, motorbike, cars, trucks, vans – actually any means of transportation – you name it, it’s on the streets of Hanoi. There are hardly any pavements to walk on, and where there are pavements they are packed with goods being sold or parked motorbikes, or places to eat.
Talking of places to eat, I think you have to be brave. If you have been to Asia, you will know that a lot of their food is sold Hawker style – open-air complexes that sell a variety of inexpensive food. Vietnam is similar in that a lot of the food is cooked and sold on the side of the street, or by vendors moving around the streets. This makes for interesting food, but you have to brave how you may feel the next morning when eating food on the side of the street. Saying that there is a whole host of restaurants to choose from, and my husband, ever the one for some good reviews on a place, selected a couple from tripadvisor. Now what the reviews say, and what you get may not be the same. We had a good experience and a bad one.
We selected Highway4 for a dinner, which came with some great reviews. The restaurant is on several levels, almost amongst the rafters of the rooftop; you are seated on cushions on the floor, and eat off low tables, creating a great ambience. Very cool, except when the unexpected guests – cockroaches – appeared, roaming the floor. The floor being your seat!! Not appetising. I must admit, the food appeared nice, and tasted good, but I kind of lost my appetite after that.
We went to the Koto restaurant for lunch one day, and this was a far cry from the dinner experience we had. The food was great, and seated at tables, we were less likely to get attacked by floor guests – not that we saw any. Koto is a dynamic restaurant, recognised for its development project that aims to break the cycle of poverty amongst street and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. The concept of Koto is to give disadvantaged youths the ability to learn a trade and better themselves. A more pricey lunch, but the food was great, and you can’t beat a good cause.
You will find an array of hotels hidden in between the buildings catering to the tourist market, but they are well priced, and very friendly. These little hotels have an elaborately French style, and are often very narrow fitting into the buildings around them. This makes them very cosy, and you feel like you are in a unique place.
We stayed at the Hanoi Elegance Hotel III (there are 4 of them in Hanoi), and the service was excellent. And the breakfast was pretty good too.
We walked around Hanoi a lot, and although we didn’t do very much in the way of museums or cultural sites (the Ho Chi Minh Museum closes between 11.30am and 2pm), we got to take in what Hanoi was like as a city. We did go to the Temple of Literature, which is a temple of Confucius. The Temple of Literature, or as it is known in Vietnamese: Văn Miếu, was known as “pagode des Corbeaux” during the period of French colonisation. This is where the first University was in 1076. The main feature is the Turtle Steeles which bear the names of those successful at the imperial exams.
We moved on to Ha Long Bay, where we boarded a Junk Boat to cruise the small Islands of Ha Long Bay. We used Huong Hai Junks, and the people were great. We joined the boat at midday, and set off into the Ocean. We started the tour with food. Lots of it – and all really good stuff too! We stopped off at Sung Sot Grotto , or the cave of surprises. It is a grotto with vast arrays of stalactites with numerous forms and shapes. You can find a phallic symbol in anything!! Next we climbed to the top of one of the islands and got a panoramic view of the area – absolutely breathtaking. Then it was back to the boat for a swim in the sea and dinner – more great food.
We spent most of the next day kayaking into some of the hidden grottos and lagoons, allowing us to experience the bays up close and personal – It was very tiring in the heat, but well worth the peace and tranquillity of the hidden areas. Absolutely amazing! We anchored the boat near the Luon Cave where we swam with the breathtaking views all around us. We even ventured into the cave that evening to take a look.
A leisurely cruise took us back to the harbour, and another holiday came to an end.