Paying our respects to Uncle Ho

I've never seen anything quite like the number of scooters you see in Hanoi, Vietnam. As we drove towards the old quarter from the airport their number increased. It felt like every single one of Hanoi's six and a half million inhabitants have got one and they were all out riding them at the same time! Add to that a seemingly blatant lack of road rules and you got yourself a pure urban atmosphere, yet absolutely no road rage. Every second there is an infringement of what we would call driving rules, yet no one reacts. It's their own set of rules and they work. Well, sort of, we did see two accidents and one near miss...

Here's a video I took to give you an idea of the organised chaos:

Nonetheless, we liked Hanoi! Yet again we were both enjoying being back in a big city, a running theme by now on this trip. And we were staying right in the old quarter, in the thick of things. The old quarter is steeped in history. Boasting elegant architecture, hidden cafes, street-food stalls in abundance, the national flag everywhere and, as i mentioned, a lot of scooters. Walking in the streets in the old quarter was slightly reminiscent of India, except rather than there being no pavements, the pavements in Hanoi were home to the scooters. Parked in neat rows, taking up all the pedestrian space.

No scooters here, maybe I exaggerated a little

The first thing we did in Hanoi was a street food tour. We were so excited about Vietnemese food and this was a great insight into the abundance of street food available. The tour included a great visit to the market, where we saw lots of things unusual to English markets. Bags of live frogs, huge snails, whole freshly slaughtered chickens, tiny live crabs and more greens and herbs than you could imagine. On the tour we tried Pho Bo, a beef brisket soup with noodles - the fave dish for brekkie in Vietnam, Ban Xeo and Bun Cha, to name but a few. And, of course, Vietnamese coffee.

Merci La France for leaving this legacy
I feel like chicken tonight...
Pho Bo stall
Breakfast pancakes

Then our adventure took us on a two day tour to Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Quan Lan Island. Halong Bay is the iconic photo you see everywhere representing Northern Vietnam, with huge limestone karsts jutting out of the sea, and with a pretty Chinese junker with its sails aloft in the foreground. Well, I'm afraid we didn't quite get that photo. Firstly, there were no junkers and secondly it was a bit cloudy. Nevertheless it was beautiful and serene.

We were on a very nice boat with 9 others - a mix of French and French Canadians. Fortunately most of them spoke better English than we spoke French and lots of fun was had drinking wine, listening to music, playing the rizla game and watching the countless karsts as we sailed by. I had my first experience of kayaking here. And quite spectacular it was too. We also stopped at a traditional floating fishing village from where we were transferred into rowing boats and got close up to the karsts and into caves that opened up inside the limestone rocks. That night the boat anchored in a lovely bay and, as we finished off the wine, a huge storm raged in the distance. But never quite reached us thank the gods.

The majestic Halong Bay karsts
Floating village
Rocking this season's Fluor fashions
Ooh, I went kayaking!

The second day we transferred to another boat in a much less touristed area called Bai Tu Long Bay. The morning was spent sailing through more beautiful waters to an island called Quan Lan. A tiny place, home to just a few thousand who made a living turning the sand into glass. We cycled to a deserted beach and then to our homestay to help make spring rolls for dinner.

Quan Lan Island
Just us and 9 Francophones on this desolate beach

The following day we headed back to Bai Tu Long Bay for a spot more kayaking, and then took a long and slightly hair-raising bus ride back to Hanoi. To distract me from the crazy driving I made this mixtape featuring some of the tunes we've been listening to recently.

On our final day in Hanoi we decided we couldn't leave without seeing (Uncle) Ho Chi Minh himself - he lays embalmed in a huge soviet-esque mausoleum. We joined a long snaking queue full of the cutest school children and were ushered in quietly and waved along briskly by the national guard dressed immaculately in white. He looked small, waxy, and dead.

Uncle Ho's final resting place ( he actually wanted to be cremated...)
Cute with a capital 'C'!

We then popped into the Fine Art Museum, where I gushed over the textiles. And from there had a mosy round the Temple of Literature; a complex built in the 11th century and dedicated to Confucius. It was established as a University back then and today still attracts students as a place to have your graduation pic taken!

Duncan at the Temple of Literature
Graduation photo


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