We met François’ parents at the Hanoi airport around midnight on October 24th. They haven’t slept for two days – flying all the way from Montreal… but everything went very well for them. We went straight to our hotel, where we slept like babies.
Located in the North of Vietnam and with approximately a population 6.5 million heads, Hanoi is the capital city. We stayed in the old town, which is quite famous for having tiny streets with merchants and specializing in a particular trade, such as silk, jewels, lanterns…
We have been fans of Vietnamese food for years, and we couldn’t wait to try it in Vietnam. To be honest, what we ate so far in Hanoi was ok, but not as good as the small Vietnamese restaurant that was close to our home in Montreal. Perhaps it’s because the quality of the meat was better in Montreal, or maybe I didn’t eat the right things, but I was expecting total mouth orgasms. Nevertheless, we still ate some good food, which had included tons of veggies!!
The menu lists were also hilarious, way worst than in China or even Japan!!! I also saw some pretty wild things, like rooster nuts, pigeon, dog (I actually saw one roasted, but I couldn’t take a photo of it…), snake, turtle, etc…
The old part of the city was quite chaotic… I never saw anything that bad, even in South America. There are always an endless stream of Vietnamese motorcyclists and no traffic lights. I was a bit baffled at first, but I quickly learned that the only way to cross the street was to walk slowly and let the motorcycles drive around you. It was insane!
Our hotel was located near Hoàn Kiếm, a lake right in the center of the city. In the very morning, tons of people would go around the lake and do exercise… some with funny dance Vietnamese music, others were doing taichi.
Together with Yvon and Andrée (François’ parents), we visited the Temple of Literature. It houses the Imperial Academy, the oldest university in Vietnam, built in 1076. It had many different courtyards, and was quite different from any other temples we have visited so far in Asia! The temple itself was dedicated to the memory of Confucius, and the sages and philosophers of Confucianism.
There was a traditional band playing folk songs inside the temple itself. They had some fascinating bamboo instruments which made quite interesting sounds. The music vaguely reminded me of traditional Peruvian music. Here is a song featuring a musician “clapping” her hands to make sounds through a bamboo instrument!
After visiting that temple, we walked around Hanoi, and stumbled in front of the Hochi Minh mausoleum… it apparently houses his mummy, which is very popular with Vietnamese people.
Walking around, we saw a bunch of – I think – graduated students posing in a park. They were all wearing colourful traditional Vietnamese costumes, so I took a photo of them:
We also saw an ancient cathedral, built by the French people when they occupied Vietnam. It looked really cool because it seemed abandoned!
To finish our visit in Hanoi, we did a quick stop to the One Pillar Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. Built in 1049, the temple is built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 m in diameter, and is designed to resemble a lotus blossom (a Buddhist symbol of purity, since a lotus blossoms in a muddy pond). It was a bit small and underwhelming, but it was still very different from anything else we’ve seen in Asia!
Hanoi was a nice city – but much more chaotic than what we were used to so far in Asia. The people are quite nice, but very business (mostly in the old centre) – but that is to be expected. We mostly enjoyed the quiet places, but it was a really cool place nonetheless!!
I have seen pictures of Halong bay a long time ago, and have since wanted to visit it… this mystical place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located about 3 hours north of Hanoi. The limestone in this bay have undergone 500 million of formation in different conditions and environment changes, and have formed some sort of strange pointy mountains called “karst” which are surrounded by the sea of China. Apparently, people already lived there 10 000 years ago… I don’t blame them, this place is paradise.
We spent 1 night on a boat, and had perfect weather the whole time. The trip included tons of yummy food and sport activities!
Never in my life did I think I would be kayaking and swimming in the waters of this beautiful sea… but we did it! The water was warm and very clear. We could sometimes see blue fishes swimming around!
We also visited a cave, formed many thousands of years ago. It was pretty cool, but the view from the entrance of the cave was even better!
And so, we returned to our boat, had diner and enjoyed the evening sky. The surrounded area was like a dream – we were surrounded by mountains and other boats, and floating on a clear sea…
After this incredible scenery, we returned to Hanoi and then took a night train to Sa Pa, a mountain village located 9 hours away in the North of Vietnam. The ride was very easy, much better than the hard sleepers in China… although François’ father did not rest at all.
We arrived to Sa Pa in the small hours of the morning… but the view from our hotel room was totally worth it. I mean, look at this! It was incredible!
As you could see on the above photo, Sa Pa is located at the base of the highest peak in the country, Fansipan, which is 3143 meters high. Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. The total population of 36,000 consists mostly of minority groups (Hmong, Dao, Tay and Giay). The mountainside is also home to rice terraces, which gives the landscapes a very ancient look.
We trekked right away to a nearby Hmong village (Cat Cat village), which had some of the most stunning mountain sceneries I’ve ever seen. It felt like in a dream… and it kind of reminded me of our mystical trails in highland Peru!
We many Hmong people (who make beautiful handicrafts) and kids…
…and many many animals.
The next day was very sunny, so we took advantage of it by washing our clothes, and hanging them on our beautiful balcony:
We hired a guide, who would take us to three small villages (which I don’t remember the names)… along the way, we saw other breath-taking landscapes, as well as minority people from different groups:
While walking, I saw a strange insect that was about 1.5 inches big. It had kind of toilet cleaning antennas… really weird!
So now, I need to go and get rest in order to be in shape. Tomorrow, we’re leaving very early (after a breakfasting on Vietnamese soup) to our long journey in crossing the border to Laos… it will take us about 10 hours to arrive to our next city, but we will be driving only 100 km. Why? The roads are surrounding the mountains… I certainly hope we won’t be taking the one in the center of this picture:
Our crossing to Laos should take us three days. Wish us luck!!