Let me take you on a photo tour of Hanoi, Vietnam.
I spent nearly 3 weeks in the city. It is chaotic and polluted, noisy and huge but at the same time there are pockets of quiet and green, temples and lakes.
I used a compact Panasonic Lumix camera and my mobile phone when I was in S E Asia. I wanted something that didn’t attract too much attention and that could be slipped into my pocket – you can find the same via this link to Amazon
street scene in Hanoi
People charge around like crazy demented ants and then they stop! They take a coffee on a dilapidated terrace or they squat down on tiny low stools for a lunch of the tastiest noodles ….before diving off headlong into the craziness again and continuing with their day.
Water features heavily and life revolves around the park and the lake. Turtles swim in the murky green waters and a temple floats etheral like in the mist. Groups of students gather here and will accost you at every opportunity begging to practice their languages and will proudly tell you about their culture and heritage.
The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is both packed with tourists yet it also has a serenity about it. Incense burns in huge cauldrons and the vivid red paint has a dusty feel.
The Temple of Literature
Water, flags and lanterns are everywhere, jostling for space in the sky with electric cables, buildings and trees. This is the view of the awesome cable system outside my balcony. i stayed here at See You at Lily’s when I got sick. You can read my article on how to deal with sickness while travelling here and about the entrepreneurial Rezma, one of the owners of See you at Lily’s here.
Everywhere in Vietnam people are selling things on the streets. You can truly buy ANYTHING. But the fruit and veg markets are the best and are always filled with wonderful looking produce.
a typical street market in Hanoi
As well as buying anything on the street you can eat anything on the street. Street food stalls have their devoted followers and set up and are successful in the most improbable places. Any small space. verge or pavement will do.
one of THE best ways to eat in Hanoi
A visit to the mausoleum that contains the (open) coffin of Ho Chi Minh is an interesting experience. Sombre groups of visitors file past, watched by armed guards as they walk through the tomb. The whole complex is huge and is run with military precision to ensure that nobody misses their allocated time slot to view the body.
the memorial to Ho Chi Minh
Even in the chilly foggy spring days, people are out on the streets in Hanoi.
coffee culture Hanoi style
A few hours drive from Hanoi are the spectacular limestone karsts at Tam Coc which is near Nimh Binh. We had a fantastic day out here, arranged through Lily’s Travel Agency. The choice of tours and agencies is overwhelming but we couldn’t fault one bit of our trips that we booked here.
On our day out that we booked with Lily we went on a boat ride down the river. Huge karsts towered above us as our guide rowed us with his feet through low caves and along a magical waterway. Our day included a cycle tour among the paddy fields, lunch and a temple visit in the mountains.
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is well worth the taxi ride out. It is a very interesting museum about the people of Vietnam with the highlight being the reconstructions of some of the traditional houses.
And you certainly should not miss the fascinating Women’s Museum with costumes and insights into the lives of women – from the traditional to the role of women during the war
women are celebrated in the Women’s Museum
St Joseph cathedral was just around the corner from my hostel in the old town. It stood out among the temples and pagodas – and on Sunday evening while the church was packed, the square out front was also packed with an overflow congregation – but they were all sat on their motorbikes.
You would not know half of the little cafes exist unless you happen to glance up. I spent many hours up on this balcony overlooking the lake.
And drinking the spectacular egg-nog coffee.
Hanoi has a strange ambience – like no other city that I have been in. Sadly the traffic pollution is high – and can only get worse if the government relax their rules on the new car taxes.
An oasis of peace in the craziness of Hanoi.
One of the little streets in the old town by my hostel. It was a buzzing, exciting and friendly area.
A group of travellers meeting up for a coffee. I wonder where everybody is now?
If you want to travel with me next year – then drop me a message. I am currently considering returning to Malaysia, exploring Myanmar and maybe getting over to see what Bali is all about.
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We could have taken a series of night busses to get from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, but my friend Debs and I decided to go by train. It would take 33 hours!
Two months previously Gosia and I had entered Vietnam overland at the middle point from Laos and we had headed south in order to find some warm weather. We spent time in Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh city but I still wanted to visit Hanoi in the north. (As you can see there are a lot of letter ‘H’s’ in the Vietnamese language!). We could have flown.
The observant among you will be noticing that Gosia seems to have been replaced by Debs. That happened in Cambodia. After meeting Debs in Siem Reap and spending time clambering around the temples I had to say an emotional goodbye to Gosia who has the rest of her life to get on with – and then on with welcoming my friend Debs who had come over from Spain.
one of the many rivers that we crossed
Hi Chi Minh to Hanoi
On the train we had reserved the top bunks in a 4-berth cabin which we were sharing with the sweetest young Vietnamese couple. The lady was nearly nine months pregnant and oh so shy. Her husband spoke very softly too and the pair of them slept for most of the journey while Debs and I kept our eye on the lady with the coffee trolley and the hot water urn in case we had to help with a birth.
2nd class recliners
I thoroughly recommend taking the train in Vietnam if you have the time as it’s quite an adventure in itself. We were in the better class of carriage – with soft bunks, although goodness knows how any of the smaller Asian people manage to climb up into the top bunks. It was a bit of a scramble for me and Debs and we are both quite tall.
our sweet travel companions
There was a middle class section on the train with reclining seats and the cheap seats with hard, wooden slatted benches. Because our companions slept a lot and we couldn’t really see the scenery from our top bunks, Debs and I spent a lot of time in the middle class carriage where there were plenty of spare seats.
somewhere from Hi Chi MInh to Hanoi
In our middle class carriage we were invited to share food with the other passengers and we were included in whatever they were saying and doing, not that we understood much at all, but it was a lovely community spirit. Passengers boarded the train and left throughout the journey so there was plenty of interesting people-watching to do.
3rd class – it later became packed to overflowing
We walked through the lower class carriages where we found people trying to make themselves comfortable on the floor underneath the benches. They were lying on sheets of cardboard and most had wrapped themselves up in fleecy blankets. A food trolley was pushed along the train at regular intervals by two of the grumpiest men ever. Despite their sour faces they did a roaring trade in instant noodles, some grey looking Vietnamese soup and crisps and crackers, although everybody seemed to have brought along their own picnics too.
dawn breaks somewhere between Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
In contrast, the lady who was in charge of the urn of boiling water for teas and coffees was wonderfully happy and was soon pouring us her super strong coffee shots unasked and watching us until we downed them. That was great until it was time to sleep when it took an awfully long time for the rhythmic clicking, clacking and rocking of the carriage to finally trump our overdose of caffeine.
some of our passengers
We passed through some spectacular countryside where rural life carried on unchanged for centuries. Workers in conical hats waded knee deep in paddy fields and buffalo stared at us as we clattered by. Despite the length of the journey from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and warnings about the rail system we arrived in Hanoi just 3 minutes behind schedule having travelled almost the entire length of Vietnam.
somewhere in Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and huge; yet unlike Ho Chi Minh City it really has a nice cosy feel to it. Or at least, it does in the old town where we stayed. Narrow little streets throng with daily life, obviously there are billions of motorbikes and street food stalls, but unlike Ho Chi Minh, the traffic seems to move a little less frantically and you can actually walk on many of the pavements.
you can walk on the pavements!
By now, we had finally perfected our Vietnamese road crossing skills.
This is an art in itself as rivers of motorbikes flow along. You need to trust to luck and simply step out into the road. Head up and look directly at the riders, put one hand in the air if it is particularly busy and under no circumstances, stop, hesitate or change your pace.
just step out and cross your fingers
They WILL go around you avoiding each other in the process but the minute you hesitate all can be lost as they in turn hesitate and chaos will ensue.
For those of you who are interested in facts and figures how about these?
- 90 million people in Vietnam
- 8 million people in Hanoi
- 4-5 million motorbikes in Hanoi (39 million in Vietnam)
- Nearly everybody who rides a bike in Vietnam wears a face mask (to protect against the traffic fumes and the rays of the sun)
And while we are considering facts and figures…
- 9% of Vietnamese people are Buddhist – most don’t have a religion but they do believe in Buddhism
- There are 54 different ethnic groups
- Vietnam enforces a 2 child policy. Parents have to pay a fee or a fine for extra children but this depends on the ethnic group
- Over 90% of the population over the age of 15 are literate
After a couple of months in Vietnam it felt great to watch newbies hover on the kerbside for ages wondering how on earth they are going to get to the other side! And then to step out and sail past them (with fingers crossed, buttocks clenched and whispering a mantra for survival.
how about this for a front garden?
The weather was quite cool when we were in Hanoi and the skies grey. I got sick again and in the end I spent far too long in my hostel with bronchitis but the one thing that struck me was how varied the countryside and the people, the food and the customs and clothes are in Vietnam.
watch your step