North Vietnam

Trip Start Sep 16, 2005
Trip End Mar 17, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, January 12, 2006


After having taken one too many overnight buses, we decided that the overnight train seemed like a better option to get to Hanoi. We boarded the train and found our cabin where we had both been allotted a top bunk. We had been beaten to the bottom bunks by a Japanese student and a wizened, old Vietnemese lady, who was all smiles and proved very effective at communicating with us despite no shared language. Will slept better than Siobhan, so it was, in his opinion, money well spent!!

Our first day in Hanoi was spent trolling around the old quarter which basically is made up of lots of narrow little streets where each shop on a certain street sells exactly the same thing (eg. sweets or paper decorations or temple offerings or lacquerware) but each street sells something different. Again, traffic is crazy, but only because the roads are so narrow and you can't walk on the pavements as that's where all the scooters are parked up, so you have to take your chances in the road - all adds to the fun.

Next day we visited Ho Chi Minh's stilt house, but unfortunately did not get to visit the mausoleum where we could have seen his embalmed remains (apparently his body goes back to Russia each year for 'maintenence'). We called in at the One Pillar Pagoda (which is exactly what it sounds like) before heading out to the Ethnology Museum which had wonderful collections of local crafts and videos of ceremonies and celebrations, together with reconstructions of traditional houses from around Vietnam. After visiting the Temple of Literature where the brightest students studied for court exams (with an oral exam at the end given by the emporor himself!) we felt we had merited a bit of a good nosh up so went to a local reataurant that trains street children into the catering industry. Good food for a good cause.

We also went to a Water Puppet show, which is apparently unique to Vietnam. Puppeteers stand behind a black curtain in a large pool of water and manipulate puppets in recreations of scenes from village life. This used to be a popular form of entertainment in the rice paddies in the days before Karaoke. You wouldn't want to go every night, for sure, but we had a really enjoyable hour watching the puppets splash about (in between the lights going out, of course).

Our last major thing in Vietnam was to go to Halong Bay which is a UNESCO listed, limestone, karst-filled bay. Unfortunately, the weather was still not great but this enveloped the formations in mist and added to the atmosphere (come on, you have to justify the lack of sun somehow!). The bay was everything the photos promised and more. It was how we had expected Koh Phi Phi to be. On the boat you were surrounded by formations of sheer limestone cliffs jutting out of the green sea, with fish eagles and hawks soaring overhead. We loved sailing round the islands and did a trek up to 2 viewpoints which gave us great views over much of the bay.

One last day in Hanoi to do our last minute shopping for lacquerware that will no doubt sit in our loft like our many other previous purchases, before heading out to Bankgok en route to India. We only had two and a half weeks in Vietnam but really enjoyed it. The people are all slightly crazy in a good way, the traffic is manic but also quite fun and there was loads that we didn't get to see. 2 months to go and the UK doesn't feel as far away as it used to...
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