North of the 17th Parallel- Part 1 (Hanoi & Halong Bay)

12 Nov

Touching down in Hanoi it was clear that this city was going to be much different to the other parts of Vietnam that I had visited. At first it seemed like a big typical Asian capital as my car pulled off the highway and down a side street to my hotel. Later that evening I found myself in the rooftop restaurant overlooking an amazing looking city as I saw all of the lights around Hoan Kiem Lake (the famous lake with the red bridge from the Amazing Race) and got excited about what I was to discover in this city.

IMG_1578 Hanoi does not lack tourist attractions in fact I had nowhere near enough time to see them all. Places I went included Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Uncle Ho’s House, various museums, Temple of Literature and the Hanoi Hilton. The Mausoleum was incredible with it’s imposing architecture and the somewhat morbid sight of Ho Chi Minh’s body for all the world to see. Still it shows the influence of socialism on Vietnam and the rich history of the place. Also Hanoi had a heap of shopping particularly in the old quarter where each street sold a different product (we were in the shoes street).IMG_1595 Vietnam has surprised me, particularly the large cities at how easy and nice it is to walk around the streets. I would never dream of doing that in places like Jakarta or Manila but Vietnam has a really good vibe. Also the food has been mind blowing with the pho in Hanoi being unforgettable (have eaten it at least once a day). One strange thing that did happen in Hanoi was walking down around Hoan Kiem Lake when we saw a huge crowd and tv camera crews looking into the lake. Soon I had a local Vietnamese guy explain to me that there was an appearance of the turtle who lived in the lake which meant good luck for those who saw it. We caught a glimpse so that’s a win for us.

While in Hanoi we took a trip down to Halong Bay for 2 days to see the famous landscape (which is now looking at being included in the New 7 Wonders of the World) to jump aboard a junk and cruise around. Not being a fan of boats and just 2 weeks after a junk sank and killed a number of people needless to say I was not entirely enthusiastic to go but I couldn’t miss out on seeing the famous bay.IMG_1677 I am so glad I did end up going because what we saw was incredible. The karsts rose majestically from the clear water and the sky managed to clear at just the right time when we pulled up to an island to explore some caves and go kayaking. My Vietnamese guide was shocked that I could keep up with him in the kayak- all those times kayaking at home were finally paying off for me. There was also the chance to play with some gorgeous puppies on the beach and we saw a snake (wasn’t keen on that). After a massive 6 course dinner on board and a surprisingly good nights sleep, we visited a fishing village the next day and saw how pearls were farmed then headed back to the Mainland to drive back to Hanoi.IMG_1698

One thing that surprised me about the north of Vietnam was how willing and eager people I met were to have a chat. With my guide in Halong Bay I discussed security (although he was shocked that a woman studied security) and at my hotel in Hanoi I met some of the most lovely staff who talked to me about their education and lives and were incredibly sympathetic about the fact I had to study at university and work at the same time. Even up to the last day when my hiking boats were in desperate need of a clean and a concierge took me down the road to have my shoes cleaned and I hung out with some local guys and had a chat in broken English.

Next up I’ll be writing about beautiful Sapa as well as some of the incredible towns down south.

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