Unleashed in the East

Hanoi
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.

Phở (Vietnamese soup) for breakfast at our hotel!

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…

The bamboo street!

The flower street

A stall at the local market... which I admit is more than a street haha! I love how chickens are walking around freely.

A backstreet, located in old Hanoi

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!!

Fried spring rolls, which were to be dipped in fish sauce

Fresh spring rolls with beef

Stir-fried chicken with cashews

5-color beef stir fry with rice and veggies. The beef was really hard and chewy! Snif!

Tamarind chicken plate with some imperial rolls. Ok, this was yummy – it was from a culinary school restaurant, but in a tiny portion.

A very good chicken soup

Deep fried glutinous rice balls stuffed with beans. Good stuff.

Ha Noi Bia!

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…

Cock testicles! Who wants steamed cock testicles with eggs? Hahaha! Look up... they even have a mullet section.

This really nasty and dirty menu was the worst I’ve ever ever seen. You can order "pleased me fried melon prices", "restoration workshop with garlic", "discharge eel try peppers", “absinth fried omelette” and some "dandruff beef hot pot"!!

Oh yeah, and “real estate fried pepper discharge” was pretty winner too.

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!

Nighttime traffic.

Daytime traffic with a very chaotic and messy electric line system

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.

A dude doing some exercise on one of the lake’s many trees

The lake’s famous bridge leading to a temple. Photo taken at dusk!

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.

The entrance gate with a big bell... perhaps to call the students from their smoke break?

First courtyard. There were many Vietnamese tourists that day.

Myself, François and Andrée (his mom) in front of a bell in one of the courtyards

A strange decoration... mother monster and her baby monsters

The great Confucius!

Myself with a Vietnamese girl dressed traditionally! She actually asked ME to take a picture with her, because she said I looked “cute”? With butch army pants and a big tattoo? Haha

François with his father, Yvon. The tree they were standing in front was really big and cool looking!

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.

Hochi Minh mausoleum

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:

Trad viet chicks

We also saw an ancient cathedral, built by the French people when they occupied Vietnam. It looked really cool because it seemed abandoned!

The Hanoi cathedral

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!

The One Pillar Pagoda

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!!

Halong Bay
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!

Halong Bay - this boat looked quite similar to ours.

Our boat! Our room was located at the bottom right

Our lives were in the feet of the captain!

Food on board the boat - fried rice paper rolls!

Food on board - calmar stir fry

Omelette

A really spiky local fish dish. It was very juicy but perhaps a bit too flavoured with anis

Driving around in the beautiful aqua-colored Halong bay

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!

Exploring Halong bay by kayak

Probably the most epic swim of my life

Relaxing after the swim with a nice cold beer

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!

The view from the cave entrance

Inside the cave...

A cornerstore on boat

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…

A nighttime view from our boat

The boats made me think of chinese lanterns floating on water...

Our beds! The room was made of dark polished wood, and was actually nicer than 90% of the hotels we sleep in!

The beautiful morning sky on Halong bay

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.

The Hanoi train station! Our train looked like the ones you see on the right

François and myself drinking mint tea in the train on the way to Sa Pa

Sa Pa
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!

The magnificient view of a chain of mountains from our hotel balcony

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!

On the way to Cat Cat Hmong village

A dream house, sitting in absolutely beautiful mountains

The continuous descending path to Cat Cat village

Rice teraces and mountains... arghhh

We many Hmong people (who make beautiful handicrafts) and kids…

Hmong grandmother washing her kids

Beautiful handmade handicrafts

…and many many animals.

An old looking dog with a beautiful mountain view

The cutest little VIetnamese pig sleeping next to his mama

An adorable mountain baby chicken (look in the middle of the photo! SO CUTE)

Another dog! Unfortunately, I think this is the species Vietnamese people eat...

The next day was very sunny, so we took advantage of it by washing our clothes, and hanging them on our beautiful balcony:

Our clothes drying on our balcony in Sa Pa, Vietnam

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:

François and his mother, Andrée, walking down a path leading to small villages..

The amazing scenery along the way!! Absolutely mind blowing incredible!

A Red Dao minority woman

Some village houses

Black Hmong women

More Black Hmong people

Crossing a bridge

A very young ethnic minority girl

Some more rice teraces... apparently, this ancestral way of growing rice is very very very difficult! Most people living in this area are actually auto-sufficient, but sometimes the crops don't yield enough food for the peasants...

Such a quiet spot... I wish I lived in one of those houses...

While walking, I saw a strange insect that was about 1.5 inches big. It had kind of toilet cleaning antennas… really weird!

Toilet cleaning VOIVOD insect

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:

Crazy mountains and roads leading to them...

Our crossing to Laos should take us three days. Wish us luck!!

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