Two and a half weeks after returning to work we found ourselves packing our bags once again – thanks to Chinese New Year we had 10 more days to travel. This time we headed to Vietnam.
Vietnam has changed quite a bit since the war with America. In 1994 the USA lifted its sanctions and full diplomatic relations were restored. It is now a stable, growing nation where the standard of living is continually rising. However, Vietnam is a communist country and as such corruption is still systematic. Yet overall, as the economy continues to improve and standard of living rises the people seem happy (at least those we visited in the north.)
A long skinny country there is a divide between the north and south in both culture and weather. After hearing great things about the country we decided to spend our holiday in northern Vietnam. We visited Hanoi (the capital), Halong Bay, Sapa and the Ninh Binh province.
It was all amazing and so we have decided to break up our posts. Today is all about Hanoi.
Thanks to a long delay due to air pollution in Shanghai we arrived at our hotel at 11:45pm on New Years Eve. The Vietnamese also celebrate Chinese New Year – but they call it Tet. Before checking into our hotel, our hotel staff immediately took us to the Hoan Kiem Lake (locking up the hotel) to watch the fireworks.
They were beautiful. However, Asian policies for fireworks probably don’t meet the safety codes in the US. We watched as sparks came down and ash fell on our head. It was a great experience to start our trip in Vietnam.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake districts are full of small alleyways, cafes with delicious coffee and croissants, motorbikes, crazy electric wires, and birds serenading you from their birdcages.
Hoan Kiem Lake means Lake of the Restored Sword. Legend is that in the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword, which he used to drive out the Chinese. After the war, one day he came across a giant golden turtle swimming on the surface of the lake. The turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared. The turtle restored the sword to its rightful divine owners.
The decorations around the lake.
Ngoc Son Temple on the lake.
St. Joseph’s Catedral. Many of the Vietnamese are Catholic, a legacy from French colonization (as well as the amazing bread.)
The tangled mess of electric wires!
Some city shots.
The markets: selling meat on the street.
More crazy electric wires and a packed motorbike.
A balloon seller taking a break.
This is Hao Lo prison, a prison used by both the French and the Vietnamese, previously was the residence of John McCain when he was a POW (His Air Force suit is part of the display). The propaganda throughout is very interesting. The American War (as it is called in Vietnam) portion of the museum showed all the demonstrations against the Vietnam war all over the word. The next section showed the POWs playing basketball, cards and going to church. While all of that may have happened, it doesn’t quite line up with the whole truth. A good reminder that we were in a communist country. The other halls showed how violent Vietnamese prisoners were treated by the French.
A crazy traffic circle by Hoan Kiem Lake. Due to Tet it wasn’t too crazy when we took this picture.
A view from our balcony.
Bird cages everywhere!
Hanoi is also called the city of lakes. This one is West Lake.
Just outside the Dong Xuan market.
Homes right next to the train tracks.
Oh and there is also the food. From fancy restaurants to street food stalls the food in Hanoi is amazing.
This is a famous Banh Cuon place that has been owned by the same family for generations. Banh Cuon is rice paper filled with minced pork and mushrooms and topped with friend shallots. It is served with sweet dipping sauce and is oh so delicious!
We also had barbecue local style, by sitting on the street with some friends.
And no meal would be complete without dessert!