“Hey Ade, could you stay on after Myanmar, and host Vietnam?” Well of course I could. I’d always wanted to go to Vietnam, but had always found somewhere else to head to instead. The usual case of ‘Too many places, not enough time’. But here was an opportunity, thanks to Two’s A Crowd, too good to pass up, oh and who doesn’t love Vietnamese food.
The tour started in Hanoi. It doesn’t have the quaint charm of Hoi An, and it’s not the business juggernaut that Ho Chi Minh is, but it has its own unique charm, and who needs the hustle and bustle of large modern cities? We did a half day tour, which included a visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (including the very cool ‘one pillar pagoda’) and the Temple of literature. And we did an awesome cyclo tour of the old quarter on the way to an amazing lunch.
That night we embarked on a street eats tour, led by our guide Laki. It was amazing how he could conjure up the most amazing dish from what appeared to be complete confusion. The food was spectacular and not one belly complaint between us. It really does pay to just get out and try everything.
The jewel for me was the old quarter, the Cathedral and Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The old quarter is a fascinating labyrinth of streets and alleyways – complete with market stalls, bars restaurants and street eat vendors. From day to evening, it’s two totally different destinations. Just a fascinating place for strolling, shopping, drinking and eating.
Hoan Kiem Lake is home to Jade Island and the ‘Temple of Jade Mountain’. Not an ancient temple, but a nice place to visit all the same. It is accessed by a the Red ‘Huc Bridge’ and is also home to Turtle Tower, in honor of the turtle that loaned his sword to help defeat Ming China. The lake comes alive at night and is beautifully lit up.
But sometimes when you’re traveling it’s the little things that endear themselves to you. I think as much as anything I enjoyed hanging out in a little coffee shop opposite the temple and watching the throng of activity on the street out front of the Cathedral. It had the best espresso in Hanoi.
While in Hanoi, our group took an overnight trip to Halong Bay. I had seen it on Getaway, and seem to remember the presenter sitting in quiet tranquillity, taking in the amazing limestone cliffs and emerald green waters.
The reality is somewhat different, but nonetheless enjoyable. We were to stay on a ‘Junk’, overnight right on Halong Bay. The boat was awesome. What did take me by surprise was the number of other Junks anchoring down for the night. There were hundreds – boats everywhere. After a long drive down to Halong Bay, we enjoyed an excellent seafood lunch. The afternoon was spent kayaking on the bay, and we followed that up with sunset drinks on the roof-top deck of the boat, before a pre-dinner massage.
As darkness fell, the lights from the boats were like fireflies on the bay. It was quite spectacular. The next morning after breakfast we headed to ‘Surprise Cave’ and joined the throng of tourists ambling up and into the cave. The cave is huge and indeed a surprise, absolutely stunning. Our stay on the Junk was a real highlight. The staff and food were absolutely amazing. But don’t think you’re going to be bobbing away in quiet solitude – you will be one of many enjoying one of the world’s natural wonder.
In hindsight, I don’t think I ate enough Banh Mi while in Hanoi, and it’s something I plan to remedy on my return. But you can’t live life with regrets.
*I was a tour host with the awesome Two’s A Crowd tour group on this trip. TAC engaged Buffalo Tours as their ‘on-the-ground’ service provider. Our host was Laki.