We have spent our Christmas in beautiful Vietnam. It was one of the most inspiring trips we’ve ever made! We took thousands of photos of the jaw-dropping scenery of bustling Hanoi, the peaceful and imposing Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, the fantastic Mekong Delta, the warfields in Cu Chi, and the modern Ho Chi Minh City. Since there is so much to tell and show, I’m going to split this Vietnam post up in three or four posts!
First, we flew to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. This city is truly unique. The Old Quarter is a place where you can wonder around for days and still discover new alleyways and hidden restaurants. It is simply amazing. Scooters everywhere, people eating and selling food in the street and other amazing little things I’m going to tell you while showing the photos! (click on them to see a larger version!)
The Old Quarters are green, lively, full of electricity cables, thousands and thousands of scooters, street vendors everywhere. Our hotel was located right in the middle of this hectic neighbourhood so we had plenty of time to wander around and explore.
The cool thing about this neighbourhood is that it is really authentic. The street vendors (mostly women) aren’t there to “entertain the tourists”, they are genuinely selling their wares to the locals. We bought some bananas and fruit from a vendor, it was delicious!
The streets are completely covered in electricity cables. But even more surprising, hanging from those cables are … bird cages! Apparantly the beautiful singing birds bring good luck and many Vietnamese like having them as pets and hang them in front of their houses. It is a really beautiful but absurd mix of ancient traditions and nature versus traffic and modern buildings.
At night, the whole area lights up in thousands of colors, and the atmoshpere is amazing!! We went on a little food safari with a guide to taste all different kind of weird foods on the street! He took us to many different places to try out all the specialties, such as bun cha (roasted pork with noodles), nem cha be (crab springroll) and ban gio (pork in steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves)
You basically sit on little blue plastic chairs, either right on the street or somewhere tucked away in the back of a long alley, and they make your food right there on the street. The atmosphere is truly unique.
Here we ate some freshly steamed snails on the street ;-)
The next day we visited the market area in the morning. They’re selling everything imaginable, we even saw a big bag full of huge moving toads.. (for eating??). Food is so important to the Vietnamese, they even have a special “Kitchen God”!
Hidden between all the scooters and shops, there are temples where the people pray for a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, Animism and national heroes. There was even a catholic church in the middle of this neighbourhood.
At the sidewalks we saw this a lot: it is tradtion to burn fake money on the 15th day of the lunar month!This fruit is given as an offer at the altars, it is inedible but it resembles the hand of Buddha (though in the south they call it the head of Buddha!)
The Vietnamese also worship their old leader, Ho Chi Minh, who has his own mausoleum in the city. They lovingly call him ” Uncle Ho”. A heavily guarded building with true communist grandeur ;-) Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body still lies inside and is sent to Russia every year for maintenance, and taking pictures is strictly forbidden.
Coffee is a big thing in Vietnam, (yay!) it is delicious and there are many small coffee shops. We found a very special one, hidden inside an ally. It was called Pho Co, and it’s not visible from the street! You actually have to enter by first passing through a silk shop and exit through a dark alley. You then reach a beautiful courtyard. From there, you climb all these tiny stairs all the way up to the roof to have the specialty coffee with whipped eggwhite and a beautiful view of the city!!
One time when we had lunch the power went out, and we saw a guy run across the street to adjust some of the electrity cables and voila, the power was back on :). Still wonder how he knew exactly which cable to fix…
We loved the Old Quarters!! On our last evening in this fantastic area, we went to the theatre to see a famous “water puppet” show. This artform dates back from the 11th century, when it was performed in flooded ricefields. It’s basically a puppet show, but then in water ;-). Accompanied by live music and song, it depicted all kinds of folkloric and mythological tales. A very mysterious and beautiful show!
A fantastic way to conclude our stay in the Old Quarters of Hanoi!
Next part: The limestone karsts of Halong Bay and Ninh Binh!