We take a quick flight from Ho-Chi-Minh city to reach North Vietnam and especially Hanoi and the region around Halong Bay. We prefer the north rather than the south of the country as it is more authentic according to you and really Vietnamese as the South is now more influenced by American culture, notably in Saigon
We finally find a hotel in Hanoi’s oild quarter, the 36 street. This is definitely the best neighbourhood and the one chosen by traveller to stay for some days in the capital. We didn’t book our hotel and this is particularly a mistake as everything is already fully booked, or very expensive. At the end of the day, after having asked to many hotels, we manage to boof for 4 nights in a hotel that is still being built! At least it is not too expensive and well-localized, near everything. But we have to say it is quite strange to sleep in a place where you still have workers around you finishing the apartement next to yours 🙂 Anyway, this shows well how the country is transforming now, following an impressive economic growth in an Asia region experiencing a real boom in every area: economic, technologic, real estate…Vietnam, influenced by China which whom links are strong, is urbanizing quickly and the economic dynamism of the country, towards a new XXIst century. Is Vietnam going to be the new South Korea, 30 years ago. Anyway, it is interesting to note how it is different from its neighbours, Thailand (more focused on tourism) and Cambodia (still poor and rural).
So we start our trip, just walking in Hanoi’s old quarter and we love this area! Many traditional shops and a friendly atmosphere, like a village, in the middle of this huge city! A traveller’s dream 🙂 We also find a small French restaurant, so we feel to be like at home (Cafe de Paris but there also other French restaurants in the city, previous French colony). and to have a break from Asia food. A good opportunity to do an excellent Christmas dinner, sharing with other travellers our culture and beloved food!
We leave this nice area for some time, this traditional place in new Hanoi, more modern, more dynamic, richer to go to another famous place of the capital: Ho-Chi-Minh mausoleum, similar to the one I went to Moscow a few years ago, for Lenine in Moscow. Not too far, this big sovietic building contains the body of the famous leader of the communist revolution in Vietnam. A great visit to pay tribute to him and see how this kind of celebration is organized by authorities: Many people go there and you have to queue to see him and once you are inside, don’t spend too much time as the external air can modify the chemical composition inside and have a possible impact on the body. Dozen of soldiers make sure the visit happens without any problems in the room. So it is up to you if you want to visit it or not, but we were just curious and meet “live” the one that you can see everywhere in Vietnam: Bank notes, TV, newspapers…a real cult of personality! One last thing, if you go there, be careful to the taxi you will call. Many of them are just scam and will charge you way too much money for the short trip. Have a look at Lonely Planet, but generally speaking the best and honest ones are Taxi CP, Taxi Hanoi in red and white, Mai Linh Taxi in green which are reliable companies.
We keep discovering Hanoi going to the nice Ly Thai To Park with a small shintoist temple in the middle. Strange feeling, as if you were in Japan! Quite popular as it is located in the middle of the city center and not far from the old quarter of the 36 streets. It is a real “green” break in the middle of buzzing Hanoi!
Lastly, we go to “modern Hanoi”. Same as in Saigon, shopping malls become increasingly popular among a middle class who keeps getting bigger as the economic growth is speeding up every year. We also take this opportunity to do some shopping the last day here as prices are still much lower than in our countries, for the same quality! Most famous brands are there and you would be happy to do some shopping before leaving the country!
And there we go, leaving Hanoi for Halong Bay! One of the most beautiful landscapes on earth! Not far from the capital, we organize a trip 3 days from Hanoi, with the opportunity to sleep for 2 nights in a boat in the middle of Halong Bay! Of course the bay has plenty of tourists but it is so big and spread that the boats go in different directions. You won’t be bothered too much. The only thing is the constructions near the bay, on the continent. They are building so much hotels, houses and towers so we wonder if and how they will be used? As people prefer to sleep either in Halong bay or in Hanoi. But again this is typical of Vietnam changing so quickly.
he highlight of this visit is doing some kayak around floating markets and houses. People do actually live there! For how long still..? But you have the opportunity to buy food or drinks in the middle of nowhere, funny.
This “trip”, booked with a tourism agency in Hanoi is not to be missed according to us. Obviously one can regret you will stay on the beaten tracks as Halong is very popular, and that’s normal! You can book a trip 3 days 2 nights, we believe it is sufficient. However, we did not go to the Halong Bay on land as it is called here as we did not have enough time but it should be exceptional with farmers still working and living using traditional methodology to grow rice or wheat in that favourable wet region.
As a conclusion, we found out that North Vietnam was more authentic than the South and you have to discover it and especially the amazing Halong Bay. Some regrets however as we did not have time to go further north, near Sapa mountains, close to Chinese border where millenial traditions are still alive and strong.