An introduction to northern and central Vietnam.
Saturday 1 August 2009 - Tuesday 11 August 2009
This was a trip I had previously thought about, but had deferred it for various reasons. However I decided the time was right and given that it was the last major country in SE Asia I had not been to, so I went.
The flights up from Auckland to Singapore and onto Hanoi were of the usual high Singapore Airlines standards. All the seat requests and special meals were also honoured. I order special meals occasionally just to see what you get. Not too fussed on the kosher meal or the Indian non vegetarian for breakfast, but the others were fine.
Saturday 1 August - Arrived on time and was collected by a very friendly chap from the hotel.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the old quarter of Hanoi, dodging the traffic, all accompanied by an afternoon nap. The old quarter is great with a huge number of shops selling everything imaginable. Dinner was at the No. 69 Restaurant, its name derived from its street number (where else could it come from?) An excellent meal of a starter, a main and two beers for 130,000 dong ($NZ12) takes some beating.
Sunday 2 August - The jet lag obviously kicked in as I woke at 5:00am! After watching a movie on TV, the name of which now totally escapes me, breakfast was downstairs. Most of the morning was spent with a hike around the lake, Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword). I would not want to go swimming in it, but it is very scenic and peaceful.
First stop was the Ngoc Son Temple. This is a very popular temple on an island in the lake. Whilst sitting and relaxing in the temple, a little old man came and sat next to me. He was about 80 and very frail looking. I looked up and saw his son / son-in-law (?) taking our photo. Then each member of the family came and sat next to me for their photo, right down to a little girl of about 5. Was great fun for the whole family. I did not realise that western tourists were tourist attractions in their own right. I was obviously enjoying it too much as I never got any photos of them.
The rest of the traverse around the lake was boring in comparison to that.
The bridge to Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The entrance to the Temple.
More of the Temple.
The most relaxed member of the Temple's staff.
The view back to the shore.
The Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower) in the middle of the lake.
Lunch was in a KFC (I know!!) which may have been a mistake. I managed to get as far as a travel agency when the afternoon rain arrived. Booked a trip to the Perfume Pagoda for the following day.
Typical Vietnamese traffic.
And again. Cyclo drivers ferrying tourists around the old town.
After my customary nap, I was feeling a bit dodgy so only had a small dinner.
Lunch finally caught up with me during the night with multiple visits to the bathroom. Not a well hamster at all.
Monday 3 August - I was till feeling grotty so postponed the planned trip to the Perfume Pagoda. Most of the day was spent in the hotel counting the lights, watching TV and reading, with only a couple of excursions out for a light lunch and dinner.
Tuesday 4 August - Feeling better so caught the tour to the Perfume Pagoda. After popping an Imodium tablet just to be on the safe side, we drove for about 60km south of the city to the town of My Duc. There were 11 in the group, 6 Italians, 1 Kiwi, 2 French, 1 Japanese, 1 Australian. From My Duc, you are rowed in a boat by a small Vietnamese woman for about 1.5 hours to the foot of the mountain. The On Yen River is very scenic with typical karst formations and rice paddies, people and animals swimming. At the end of the river ride, there are two options to get up to the temples. One, a long walk up a winding path, or two, a cable car. Given that it was hot, I opted for the cable car. At the top of the Huong Tich Mountain, is a vast cave with a temple inside it. Huge amounts of incense was being burned inside the temple.
Again I caught the cable car down so probably missed the best views of the other temples on the path down. A very good lunch was provided at a restaurant at the bottom of the hill.
Another 1.5 hours of rowing (by the same small Vietnamese woman) got us back to the bus at My Duc and from there back to Hanoi in time for dinner.
Typical Vietnamese scenery, with karsts and rice paddies.
A small Vietnamese lady rowing four large Italian tourists.
Rowing down the On Yen river.
More scenery along the river.
The end of the ride.
The entrance to Huong Tich Cave.
Chua Trong (Inner Temple), inside Huong Tich Cave.
The cable car heading down the mountain.
Dinner again was at the No. 69 Restaurant. They gave me a customer questionnaire to complete and they asked me to correct all the sppeling spelling mistakes and make improvements to it. I hope they took my suggestions on board.
From there I caught the 23:00 train to Hue, the hotel having laid on a flash Mercedes for my transport to the train station.
Hotel Review: I stayed at the Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel which is on the edge of the old quarter and about a 15 minute walk to the lake. It was very comfortable with possibly the most over decorated room in history. I counted 34 lights in my room. Yep, 34 lights. Never found all the light switches for them. There was no view at all, but there was enough space to house an army. The breakfast was average but the staff were great. They were especially helpful to another guest who had been robbed in the street. They accompanied him to a police station and made sure he got the correct paperwork for his insurance claims.
Impression of Hanoi - great food, chaotic traffic, friendly people.