Friday, December 14, 2012

Hanoi: A very pleasant surprise

I have to admit that had mixed feelings as we left Laos and boarded our flight to Hanoi. Other travelers had mixed reviews of their time in Vietnam, citing the crazy traffic or the pushy vendors as sources of constant stress. I had also heard from several people that people who travel north to south in Vietnam have a more negative experience than those that travel south to north.

Even during our cab ride into the city in the dark, we were impressed with the tree lined streets, and we could sense a certain charm. We weren't disappointed the next morning when we ventured out into the city, enjoying the cooler weather and the happy city enjoying a pleasant Sunday in the Old Quarter.

We headed to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, where we watched Simon run screaming from his newfound fan base. He enjoyed the attention and running around, but wasn't always keen on being held and taking pics. It was quite a sight. This is when I taught Simon to say, "Please don't touch me."

We then found a popular Vietnamese restaurant where we dined with the locals, before heading back for our afternoon nap. That evening we attended the water puppet show, and drank local fresh beer, known as bia hoi. $0.25 for a glass.

The next morning we were off to Halong Bay. More on that later.

Yesterday we had one last day in Hanoi, and we were very lucky to get a tour with the extremely popular tour group Hanoikids. They are as group of college students that offer tailored tours of the city for free. It allows students to practice their English and learn about the history and culture of their city, and tourists get the unique experience of seeing more of the "real" Hanoi. Tours are usually booked 2 months in advance, so were very lucky to get a tour when we emailed just 5 days prior!

Viny and An, two students studying economics in Hanoi, arrived at our hotel at 9am to start our tour. Since we weren't really sure what we wanted to do, we asked them to take us out for typical Vietnamese coffee. Turns out that the Vietnamese cappuccino is an egg coffee, drunk sitting on tiny stools around little tables. We were definitely off to a great start!

We decided that we would head to the Temple of Literature, then go out for a good Vietnamese lunch, and then walk around the French quarter a bit. Turns out having 2 guides for the 3 of us worked out perfectly! An stuck with me, who bhad to keep up with Simon and make sure he didn't misbehave too badly with all the mobs. Turns out Martin and Viny were behind us dealing with a bit of celebrity status themselves. Turns out Martin was quite a hit as well.

The women are wearing traditional clothing for their big graduation day.
We haven't done any city or cultural tours up until now. I know from experience that keeping tabs on Simon and trying to listen to a tour guide don't go that we'll together. That's why this was so amazing. If I lost my train of thought or suddenly had to chase Simon, I wasn't being rude when I had to have something reexplained. And it's free, so the price is right.

Family pic at theTemple of Literature.
Lunch at the cool Hwy 4.
Simon with his new buddies, An and Viny.
Martin and I learned so much about not only the sites we visited, but Vietnamese life and culture as well. We learned about the four sacred animals (turtle, unicorn, dragon, and phoenix), the five sacred relationships (father-son, husband-wife, friends, king-people, and brothers), and so much more. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Similar organizations exist in other cities in Vietnam, and probably all over the world. They are so worth checking out if you ever get the chance.
Simon with his new buddies, An and Viny.


  1. I just laughed out loud at the picture of Martin and the girls! Hilarious!!!

    1. I know! I actually missed all the hype (chasing Simon) and would not have believed it if it weren't for the pics. ;)