Tag Archives: Hanoi

Wrapping up N. Vietnam….Back to BKK, Thailand

We spent a couple of days back in Hanoi.  The first day back happened to be the 60th anniversary of kicking the French out of the city.  We had seen the preparations for this for over a week.  There were lanterns all along the streets and lights up everywhere.  And there were flags.  Lots of flags.  And you know how much Riki likes flags?  I’m guessing there are 100 pictures of flags.  I will spare you most of them.  That evening, we wandered down to Hoan Kiem lake just in time for a parade (of course we found a parade).  There were dancing dragons, colorful ladies and lots of music.  We hung around the lake for a few hours and were joined by perhaps the entire population of Hanoi.  The fireworks, which Riki had read were going to be modest because they were being paid for by the city, were the best ones I’ve ever seen.  Lots of huge, loud ones and incredible shapes.







The next day we checked out the National History Museum and Revolution Museum.  The Revolution Museum was a lot like Cuba’s in that there was not much explanation, but lots of artifacts.  For instance, the cup so and so drank from that time he ate at this place.  And the jacket he wore that other time he went to this other place.  See how much I learned?  We did some research after we went to fill in the blanks.  The History Museum had a lot of really cool old artifacts, metal pieces, old tools, etc.


The following day we headed for Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house.  He refused to live in the palace and had a traditional house built out back for himself.  The people really like that.  On our way we got a bit lost, but found a lake and this guy giving haircuts along a main road.IMG_0522.JPG

We found a few places with balconies overlooking the hectic streets.  I think these were Riki’s favorites.IMG_0521.JPG

 Our last day in Hanoi we did some shopping (or just browsing really) and went to our new favorite restaurant to eat our new favorite dish, Highway 4 with carmelized coconut and pork.  Pricey for Hanoi, but our meal was still under $15.

We had a quick flight back to Bangkok on Air Asia.  Our flights were only $60 each way.  Definitely worth the trip to Northern Vietnam to catch the good weather.

Back in BKK, we strolled down this canal to the Golden Mount, a free view of the city, with lots of bells.









I may look awkward, but these monks on mobile devices were too funny.



Sometimes I get ahold of the camera and bad things happen.




Flower pictures, as requested.



We really like taking the ferries down the river.  They are fast, cheap and cleaner than the buses.

Next stop, Ayutthaya, the ancient capital.


Deep thoughts by Riki….Vietnam

What cops are probably saying @ roadblocks to motorbikes/scooters: “sorry guys, road is closed, use the sidewalk.”

I’ve heard the Vietnamese national anthem so often here that I probably know the hymn better than the Swiss one…

American Aussie @ Bia Hoi place: “Hanoi is Bangkok 20 years ago and Myanmar is like what Hanoi was 20 years ago.” Conversation was about why we should definitely go to Myanmar.

Hanoi has the best tasting coffee I have ever had, honestly, just the simple Vietnamese coffee with milk (which is condensed and you don’t know it’s in there until you start stirring your coffee, then voila…) and it’s only 20,000 VND (just under $1).

Observation while eating at street food stalls: Vietnam may be the communist country, but they don’t use toilet paper for napkins like they do in Bangkok (they don’t always, but this place we really like does)…

Yes, there is a lot of propaganda, but mostly on billboards in the countryside/along the highways (in Hanoi, most were for the 60th anniversary celebration of kicking out the French) and they are all very positive (pro worker, school teachers & pupils, peace, and “Uncle Ho” is on almost all of them), quite cool looking, and less ubiquitous than other adverts.

Their chickens (in the city) and pigs, buffalos, goats (in the countryside) just roam around everywhere – free range for sure… Just hanging out on the curb, most likely aware of the crazy traffic (cause if they weren’t, they would go on about it so nonchalantly).

Wedding and graduation pictures are huge here. Always very professional, great attire, and everywhere all the time.

Two young schoolgirls from the country side practiced their English with me at the temple of literature, we talked about Hanoi, New Orleans, and what they were studying. The students here do this all the time, they just go to the popular tourist destinations, approach foreigners, ask if they know English and if they can practice for a short conversation, it’s great and they must do it a lot, because their English is quite good.

Families just hang out on the sidewalks, in front of their houses (like the whole family, three generations), especially if they sell stuff out of their homes. It’s all very communal, but with all the motorbikes on the sidewalks, you usually just end up walking in the street.

It seems like when they advertise meat here (cooked and ready to eat):
– Chicken – no head
– Pig – head is there, just not attached
– Duck – whole thing, including the beak, just hanging from a hook in its neck

It’s amazing how inventive/ingenious the sidewalk kitchens (or motorcycle repair shops) can be with so little space, and so few materials.

The kids (especially in the countryside/outside the busiest parts of the cities) are sooo cute. They wave and say “hello” to every foreigner that happens to pass by (the babies are taught early by their moms, helping them wave and pointing out the foreigners), and if it’s only you, they say hello as often as they can until you are out of sight. Of course, the teenagers say it ironically and giggle with their friends.

The Vietnamese are none to pleased with the Chinese right now.  China built an oil rig in their waters (which China says is theirs cause….). There’s even an exhibit in the revolution museum about it, showing old maps and stuff (from China) to discredit their claim. (It’s all very political and there are some other territorial water disputes in the region, involving China…, you should read up on it).

The ladies working in the train station, and the airport too apparently, have these great white and blue dresses/outfits on (Julie could describe them better I’m sure) but they look great.

The haze, from the smoke, from the rice harvest… makes strobe lights and fireworks look amazing at night.

Sales pitch @ every market or outdoor seller (not sure who it works with) – “buy something from me” or “you buy something from me” sometimes proceeded by “where you from” or “thank you”. There was a lady at a restaurant (I think she owned it) in Sapa making fun of them, “you buy from me not from her…” Wasn’t very nice cause they didn’t speak much English and were only trying to earn some money, but it seams like there is a bit of a rivalry up there with the ethnic minorities, who sell mostly handmade things and still live quite simply, and the Viet who have moved up there more recently to make money off the tourists.

Bikes of burden, let me tell you…. Actually, you can see it in a couple of pictures, but it’s amazing what they can fit on these bikes (there’s already a photo book with them… And we thought we were so clever when we came up with the idea).


Five minutes from China….Northern Vietnam

Tales of Transportation

***WARNING: This post is mostly two Americans complaining about the transportation issues we encountered.  At some point it became rather comical to see what would happen next.  Pictures will be in the next post, as will our trekking adventure in Sapa. So if you’re not a reader, come back later***

We spent Friday bumming around Hanoi until our evening train to the north.  We stopped by the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, but he is in Russia for three months getting cleaned.  I suppose they have experience keeping Lenin looking fresh so that’s the best place for his “vacation,” as our receptionist put it.  October 10th is Hanoi’s 60th anniversary of getting rid of the French, so the whole city is geared up with flags and red banners.  We asked a shopkeeper what will happen that day and she didn’t seem too excited.  Just some speeches and parades maybe.  Everybody still works.  We were hoping for fireworks or something, but we’ll see.  We arrived at the Water Puppet Theater too late to get tickets for the immediate show but were given tickets to the next one.  In the meantime, we went back to our favorite spot for a couple of young beers and peanuts.  The water puppets were great.  They apparently tour the world.  They had elaborate costumes and while it was all in Vietnamese, we could follow the story lines.  Then we returned to our hotel to retrieve our bags and walked over to the train station.

And this is where plane karma becomes train karma.  Our 9:10 pm train left right on time and we settled into our hard sleeper cabin with some teachers from China and a Vietnamese guy.  We dozed off despite the incredible chill from the a/c and were quite glad we had brought our sleep sacks, as the cleanliness of the bedding was questionable.  We only saw two roaches though and they were tiny compared to the Palmetto bugs in New Orleans.  The train was pretty jerky and loud, but for a few hours all was quiet and I was able to sleep.  I woke up at 5:00 thinking I should probably start getting packed as we were due to arrive at 5:30.  Well 5:30 rolls around and were still going and most people are still asleep.  7:30 rolls around and were still going, albeit very slowly.  The Vietnamese guy gets up, goes out for a bit and when he returns, he gets back in his bunk and goes back to sleep.  Not a good sign.  The rest of us in the car, including some Spaniards, Americans and Germans have no idea what’s going on and no one to ask who speaks any English.  9:30 rolls around and someone figures out that we are going to arrive at 11:00.  But then the attendant comes around and gives everyone a free ramen noodle bowl (there is boiling water at one end of the car).  Not a good sign.  They wouldn’t feed us if we were arriving soon.  Then the Vietnamese guy in our cabin gets his stuff and leaves, presumably off the train because we never see him again (my theory is he caught a bus at one of the stations).  So over the next few hours we glean from the attendant that it will be another hour, and then another 30 minutes, and then another hour.  He had no idea.  To make a long story short, we arrived 8 hours late on a trip that should have only taken about 8 hours.  Later, we learned from a Dutch couple that we received a new engine in the middle of the night.  Riki’s take on this was that if we had arrived at 5:30 we would not have seen the beautiful sights along the way.  And beautiful they were.  I was less enthusiastic about the whole thing.

In order to be able to travel so long, we are on a budget (obviously).  This is no specific dollar amount, but involves taking the cheaper option most of the time.  One thing we will not be taking any more in Northern Vietnam are the public buses.  We have taken three buses in the last two days and have had enough, despite the cheap fare.  We picked up the public bus in Lao Cai, where the train let us off.  Our plan was to do some trekking in a neighboring town that afternoon and catch the big market the next morning, but by the time we arrived it was just about to get dark.  So we found a cheap hotel and some decent grub and called it a night.   Oh, and we tried the local corn whiskey, which was awful. Riki joked that he wanted to bring it back to the hotel to sanitize his toothbrush (which had hit the wall in the train toilet- our first squat toilets by the way – not pleasant, especially when moving).  He may not have been joking.

Let me touch on the public buses for a moment (or two). Our first bus, to Bac Ha, supposed to be an hour an half, took two and a half because we spent 40 minutes cruising around trying to fill up the bus.  And I’m not talking about with just people.  We had the seats full leaving the station, about 20 passengers, an engine of some sort, long poles and a puppy tied into a basket, while listening to an Asian version of Phantom of the Opera.  By the time we got on the main road, we had added 5 more people, countless boxes to the top and large, lumpy bags filled with who knows what.  Along the way, we added more people, more stuff to the top and stopped so a passenger could buy a roasted duck and the driver could take a quick smoke break.  And that was just the first bus, it gets better.  On our second bus, on the return trip, I sat in a row with 4 other people (only 4 seats) and Riki sat on a huge bag of yarn at my feet.  At one point we pulled over and the ticket taker pulled a small puppy out from under a seat and passed him out the door to somebody.  And then we continued on like that, adding people and stuff without people.  When we got off, Riki informed me that under my seat was a box of live chicks.  I had no idea.  Our most recent experience was the transfer from Lao Cai to Sapa, which should have been no more than an hour.  It took two.  We did the same obligatory jaunt around town picking up more people and stuff – 4 mattresses, bedding, two giant water purifiers, 15 large bags of flour and a sack of coconuts.  Needless to say, we were pretty weighed down.  And every time we stopped, the driver would splash water on the tire below where Riki was sitting.  Didn’t seem like a good thing, especially considering the burning rubber smell.  So we eventually crept up the mountain, and came very close to China.  And we still added people.  We got passed by everyone, except a truck full of bricks (and the people walking).  The best part: when the driver pops in the Korean lingerie DVD, complete with loud music and the older local ladies in their traditional outfits front and center of the screen.

We opted for the tourist bus on the way back down, which was almost the same price, didn’t stop to pick up any live animals and made it in less than an hour.  Settling into our train compartment, we hoped the train karma would be good.  In fact, it was worse on the way back.  Two families traveling with toddlers squeezed into our 6-person cabin.  After a bit of fussing the toddlers passed out and we dozed off.  About an hour later, one of the men starts snoring like nothing I’ve ever heard before.  He sounded like he was choking on his own tongue.  Despite our earplugs there was no way to sleep through this.  And his wife was apparently immune to the noise.  So we didn’t sleep that night.  But we weren’t delayed and made it back to Hanoi on time.

We dropped off our bags and wandered down to Lenin Park to wait for our room to be ready.  There are a bunch of lakes in Hanoi and this one is fenced off with a small entrance fee.  It is really peaceful compared to the hustle of the streets.

We napped that afternoon and planned our trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc.

Boats, Bays & Bikes with no brakes….Vietnam

We took an early flight from Bangkok to Hanoi, arriving at 8:30 am.  Happy to report no screaming children! We also met a woman who is traveling SE Asia and had the obligatory chat about where she has been and where she is going.  We exchanged stories and information.  Being in no rush, we decided to try the public bus (9,000 Dong, less than 50 cents) to the Old Quarter where we had made a reservation for one night at a hostel.  It took about an hour, but cost $14 less than the taxi.  Stepping off the bus, we experienced our first street crossing.  This is the complete opposite to anything you have ever experienced, I promise.  No one obeys traffic lights, not that there are many.  And there are tons of motorbikes.  So you just stare straight  ahead and walk slowly into the nearest gap in traffic.  I am not exaggerating.  Everyone does this and the motorbikes will swerve around you.  Its the cars and buses you have to avoid.  Surprisingly, this works.  The vehicles all go pretty slow and everyone gets where they are going.  Then we took a quick walk around town.  The old part of Hanoi has 36 streets that are named after what industry occurred there.  For instance, I think we are staying on wedding stationary street and right next to us is bamboo ladder street.  We are fortunate to be right near the intersection of beef soup street and chicken soup street, where we have been eating all our meals.



The next day we had signed up for a tour to Halong Bay.  We are not really into traveling with a group, but for Halong Bay you kind of have to.  It involves a 4 hour bus ride to the harbor, transfer to a junk boat (the type of boat, not a description of the boat) and then a cruise around the massive stone peaks that this area is famous for. We went kayaking around a floating fishing village the first afternoon. We stayed on the boat the first night and had incredible fresh food and lots of it (besides the deep fried, hard boiled eggs).




I got the back so Riki took take pictures without my paddle getting in the way.  So I think I did the paddling for the both of us.


One of the kayaks fell overboard mid journey and had to be emptied.  It took this one guy, with 5 guys watching, quite awhile to empty it, one bucket at a time.






Fighting chicken rocks…..or so they say.


Our boat.  Highly recommend our tour company – Ethnic Travel.  We found them in Lonely Planet after reading many horror stories about terrible boats, food and unsatisfactory excursions.




The next day we kayaked again to a large cave, where we got out and climbed through the rock to the other side.  The cave had a completely flat ceiling, which must have something to do with the layers of rock and how they formed over time.  I need to do some research on that.






We meandered back to the harbor where we transferred an hour or so northeast to another town to get on a smaller boat for a cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay.  This area is a lot less touristy and the reason we choose this tour company.  Only a few companies go here.  It is a lot cleaner and a lot less crowded.  The harbor here has the typical tall, skinny buildings.  Similar to New Orleans, they are taxed on the width of the building, so many are very narrow and 5-6 stories tall.


We went kayaking again at a pearl farm and then swimming in some clearer water.  Early evening we arrived on an island at the edge of the bay.  We took tuk-tuks to our homestay, where we found out that this island, Quan Lan, has no electrical grid and frequently experiences small blackouts, as it did just as we were being shown to our room.  The island generators operate from 6-10 pm, so after that, our homestay had to use their own generator.  But this meant no a/c.  And it was HOT.  The bed did not even come with a flat sheet, just pillows and a fitted sheet.  There was no need.  Don’t worry, we were given a fan.


IMG_0367.JPGThe last day we woke up early to take an hour bike ride across the island.  We were all given bikes with questionable hardware and absolutely no rear brakes.  The front brakes existed, but were of little use.  Luckily it was mostly flat.




 Then we stopped on a beach, where the sand was incredibly soft and white, but was littered with trash.  The island exports their beautiful sand for construction, but in a low-lying place where the tides differ by 4 meters, that may not be the best idea.


We returned to the boat and cruised a different way back to the harbor, where we were driven back to Hanoi.  There were some interesting views along the way.  Lots of rice fields and small villages.  As well as this cow eating garbage.


The drivers here are crazy.  They honk incessantly at each other, mostly to say “get over, here I come” and they pass constantly in the opposing lanes.  This means a lot of swerving and jerking about by all drivers, ours included. We were rather stressed looking out the front of the van so we kept our eyes off to the side.  When we reached Hanoi, it was rush hour and we were greeted with this mess as we crossed a bridge.


And this guy on the phone.



You can fit anything on a motorbike here.  Just today we saw: A washing machine – two kegs – two adults, two children – 200+ oranges (or similar looking green skinned fruit) – two men with one holding a motorbike perpendicularly.

Today has been our rest day. “Rest day?” you say. Yes.  All this traveling is exhausting and we have to take breaks.  We spent the morning planning our trip to Sapa and then went for a little walk.  Riki took this pictures of me for the electrical mess, until I pointed behind me to show him the guy napping on the bike.

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They have a cathedral here…St. Joseph’s, but we didn’t go in.

And the obligatory street art pictures.




Tomorrow we go north to Sapa and Bac Ha for the Sunday market.  We are taking the night train both ways, which we booked all by ourselves at the train station.  Hopefully, we did it right.  It seems like most people we talk to go through an agency and pay a little more for convenience.

Format note: I apologize that the pictures are not in perfect order (not that you would know I guess) and for the different sizes.  Depending on how I upload the pictures, they come in as big or small and are not adjustable.  So zoom away.