Where to start? Vietnam was amazing. I know that sounds so cliche, and couldn’t I really think of something more insightful to say, but honestly it was like nowhere I have ever been. I’ve never been to China or India, but I kind of imagine Hanoi to be a south east Asian cross between China and India. I think part of the reason I have that impression is because I was expecting Hanoi to be much more like Bangkok or KL than it was. Hanoi is still very much a developing city, as Vietnam is still a developing country. I think there is often a risk to expect major cities in the same region to all be alike, but each country clearly has it’s own unique history that shapes it’s cities. And Hanoi, well, all of Vietnam, was one of those unsuspected gems.
I think I’ll begin with a brief overview of our trip (more details to follow in upcoming posts, of course, and you can see more pictures here):
Frankly, I would not really consider KL to be a tourist paradise. It is an absolutely wonderful place to live, and I could not be happier living here, but I wouldn’t quite know what to do here if I was just visiting the city. So, I kind of expected the same thing with Hanoi. Not so, my friends, not so. There is so much to see just by walking around. We spent an entire day just walking the streets of the Old Quarter because it was just so interesting – and if we had more time, we would have spent another day!
After two days in Hanoi we took a 3 day, 2 night trip to Ha Long Bay. It was unbelieveable. I had seen pictures and recently watched the episode of the Amazing Race that takes place on the Bay, but nothing really prepared me for the calmness and expansiveness of the bay. I have seen limestone islands before in Thailand and here in Malaysia, but nothing on the scale of Ha Long Bay. Our tour guide explained that there are around 1000 tiny islands in the whole region (only part of which is Ha Long Bay) and we were only going to have time (in our 3 days on the boat) to see about 400. 400. And that’s only about 2/3rds of the islands (I know, my math is a bit shaky). It was truly beautiful.
The day after we returned from Ha Long Bay, we took a wonderful biking tour of an ancient town about an hour outside of Hanoi called Duong Lam. I think both Alex and I would agree that this was the best day of our whole trip. We were in one of those situations where we were some of the first foriegners anyone in the village had ever seen. We had a tour guide from Hanoi, but even she needed a guide once we got there, so we also had a local guide (as pictured here). He was fantastic! Look how proud he is to have his picture taken! He was so excited when I showed him on the camera. He kept pointing to sights, to himself, and to my camera – and thus, another picture was taken.
From Hanoi, we flew down to Hoi An, which was my second favorite (oh, it’s so hard to classify. I’m not really sure about that) part of the trip. Hoi An was so quaint and beautiful and relaxing. It was such a change of pace from the frenetic lifestyle of Hanoi. I got a slew of clothing tailored for me, including some beautiful Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress). We spent our three days in Hoi An just wandering around the old town (a UNESCO world heritage site, but what isn’t these days?) shopping, eating and meeting up with friends (all our buddies from the Ha Long Bay boat were in Hoi An at the same time, and, of course, we ran into some colleagues from school that were also vacationing in Vietnam). It was definitely the most relaxing part of our trip.
Finally we ended up in Hue. Unfortunately I did not see one thing (aside from the hotel room) the entire 3 days we were there because I came down with the absolute worst food poisoning I have ever had in my life on the first night. For some reason I had a craving for Italian food (I know, not the right choice in Vietnam) so we went to a nearby Italian restaurant. Everything tasted pretty good, considering we were not in Europe, but the toilet roller coaster began only a few short hours later. After the first incident Alex just slept through the rest of the 14 hours of my vomiting every 15 minutes. By the next morning my back was in so much pain from the repeated lurching to the toilet and hurling that, even if I had been feeling OK, I couldn’t get out of bed. And that continued for the next 2 days. It was a blast, let me tell you. Thankfully, I’m back to full health now. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger, right?
And from Hue we fly back to Hanoi, and back to KL. Thankfully our flight back to KL was delayed (can you guess what airline we were flying?), so even though we had somewhat of a tight connection between the Hue-Hanoi flight and our departure to KL, we had plenty of time to lounge around the airport between flights. We even got to buy some Haribo gummi colas (my favorite) in the airport.
And that was our trip. It ranks pretty high on my list of best trips ever and we will definitely be back to Vietnam. Next time: to the South!