Friday, 15 September 2017

Vietnam Part 1

The lack of posts in the last two weeks is indicative to two things: first I haven't done anything hobby related since the last post (in part because work was excessively busy and in part because the lead pile has been levelled); second because I am not in the country. A week ago we departed for our long awaited holiday in Vietnam.

Regrettably this report contains no images because I forgot to bring the adaptor that would allow me to download the images from the SD card to the iPad.

We flew into Hanoi via Singapore, arriving a little after 1:00 pm and in our hotel about 2:00. Hanoi was not as chaotic as I expected it. Yes it was busy, but after all the horror stories I'd heard about the traffic it was nowhere near as bad as other places I have been like Cairo, Bangkok or Shanghai. Then again it was Saturday, so time would tell I guessed.

Having showered and freshened up after 15 hours of travel we ventured out, but found ourselves chronically jet-lagged and we retired to the hotel bar or a while, then a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant and into bed by 7:00.

I don't usually like organised tours, but her indoors was insistent and this whole trip is a personalised guided tour for just the two of us - us with a driver and a guide. Sunday saw us out and about in Hanoi. We visited Ho Chi Min's tomb and the presidential palace, then a few temples and pagodas before wandering around the old town. The nature of the city differs little from Bangkok, Hong Kong or Shanghai - narrow streets, crowded, noisy and exciting. Crossing the road is a unique yet not unsafe experience. We were back at the hotel around 4:00 for drinks and dinner in a local restaurant - where seven dishes, some wine and a couple of beers cost us about $NZ50 - expensive by Hanoi standards I am led to believe.

Monday saw us heading to Hoa Lu, in Ninh Binh province, the ancient capital of Vietnam. It was about a two hour drive out of Hanoi and now we saw the change in traffic. At first it wasn't apparent, but when we reached the intersection at the end if the road our hotel was on there was a veritable swarm of motor bikes and scooters...hundreds of them, and soon they multiplied into thousands and then tens of thousands. Yet despite the sheer volume of vehicles and the resulting chaos, it all works. The traffic flows like water, in fact a better analogy would be a swarm of bees or a school of sardines where there are thousands of individuals moving as a single mass without a single one colliding. It would never work with New Zealand's aggressive drivers, but here in this seemingly patient country it was a visual symphony.

On Monday night we caught the night train to Lao Cai. The train set off with a shake, rattle and roll,  a bumped and swayed and every other applicable descriptor - I'd swear at one point it bucked like a bronco - but it was a fun night, even if sleep was a little on the short side. Lao Cai is a city in the mountain region is right up on the border with China and is the gateway to Sapa and the famous terraced rice paddy fields. Life in the mountains is simple. Most of the farming is at subsistence level. We stopped at a local market then at a small village to observe country life before heading to Sapa.

A  city of some 60,000 souls Sapa was a lively place. Filled with trinket shops, hotel, bars and restaurants the place supports a booming tourist trade. We spent a little time in the town, but we were still winding down from what has been an extremely busy couple of months for us both and we chose to return to the hotel, where fortuitously happy hour had just started! Dinner and an early night followed.

At 8:00 AM our guide picked us up and drove us the 6 km to the start of our trek through the paddy fields. This 13 km walk took us right through the heart of the valley, through three villages. This place is astonishingly beautiful. The terraces are a blend of greens and yellows. They wind and weave as though there is a grand design, which of course there is not - it is the workspace of many families scratching out a living. If only my office space - my little 1.8 metres of desk space - was in such an amazing work environment. It was hot, very hot and it tested our fitness. That said our guide said she expected that it would take four hours, but we did it in only three. As we ended the trek we struggled on the final incline, but I was pleased to note that there were many half our age, or even younger, struggling perhaps worse than us. We returned to Sapa for lunch and a day at leisure around the town before we were taken back to  Lao Cai to take the sleeper train back to Hanoi.

After a noisy night on the train - the term sleeper being a bit of an oxymoron in this instance - we arrived back in Hanoi and drove down to Halong Bay where we had an overnight luxury cruise planned. The Vietnamese rate this as their main scenic highlight, and it is certainly impressive, although in my view Sapa is more impressive. The big difference between the two, I suppose, is that Sapa is only impressive for a limited time. Regrettably our cruise was cut short by the approach  of some rough weather that meant we had to be back in port four hours early.

We drove back to Hanoi, with some four hours to kill until our flight to Hoi An. At first there is some doubt that we will get away because of the bad weather, but we soon learn that while all the morning flights were cancelled, ours is OK. We spent some time in the old French Quarter before looking through the History Museum. Then heading for the airport.

And so passed our first week in Vietnam. In just a few more days we will be heading home.


  1. Your Vietnam holiday sounds wonderful. I look forward to seeing a photo display when you return.

    1. Indeed it is Jonathan. Just arrived in Hôi An and it looks an amazing place.

  2. That sounds like a great few days...

    1. Yes it is a great spot with great food...and wonderfully hot.

  3. Safe travels Mark. We got back from Beijing and Shanghai just over a week ago, and are still recovering. It sounds as though we may almost have passed you travelling in opposite directions. I'll look forward to reading your next instalment.

    1. Thank Lawrence. We are in Hué now. Just had a lovely (and very alcoholic) dinner. How did you enjoy China? We did both of those destinations for Christmas 2009 and 2010 respectively...loved both, although it was very cold (-12) on Chistmas Day on the Great Wall with a considerable wind blowing.

    2. I think China is one of those destinations that I would commend to just about anyone for a holiday, but once was probably enough. The Great Wall was the highlight for me and I was far more impressed with it than I thought I would be, and I was unprepared for how steep it is (at least the section we visited).

      The pollution in Beijing was also worse than I expected; even on a cloudless day the sky was grey. That aside, I thought both it and Shanghai were very clean and neat cities, especially given the population.

      Japan is next for us, but I'll look forward to your summary of Vietnam as that is on our list and, funnily enough, our eldest is off there for two weeks with her fiancé at the end of the month. We have just sent off her visa application to Canberra along with $99 on what must be one of the dodgiest-looking official forms I have ever seen, and it took me half an hour of checking to make sure it was actually legit.

    3. We were so lucky in Bejing with the air quality. We arrived in Christmas Eve and it was pretty bad, but that night a strong wind came in from the North that dropped the temperature but cleared the air for the rest of our time there.

      Japan is also a goal for us but so is South America, Canada, eastern France (and the Franco-Prussian War battlefields for my 60th next year), Turkey, Russia, more Pacific Islands and parts of Oz....the list goes on...and on...and on - its a bit like wargames armies really, isn't it?