With so much to see and do in Vietnam, it’s hard to know where to start. Take your pick from the idyllic beauty of Halong Bay, bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the rugged mountains in the north or the Imperial city of Hue on the banks of the Perfume River. Guest Blogger, Lynne Gray, traveller and founder of That’s PR, shares her impressions of Hanoi, an old French Colonial city with a unique charm and history.
It’s always an exciting adventure when you go to a country for the first time. Vietnam, especially North Vietnam, had always seemed to me to be mysterious and steeped in tradition. On a recent tour of Indochina, a friend and I stayed in the old quarter of Hanoi, capital of Vietnam and over 1000 miles north of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon).
Wandering round the tiny streets, we had to walk mostly in the road as the pavements were full of people selling their wares, chatting or eating at one of the many street food stalls. There are many old buildings from the the days of the French rule as well as modern hotels, bars and restuarants. The traffic was like the city, absolutely chaotic, but somehow it worked.
The night market was amazing; something not to be missed; I think you could buy just about anything there. There are plenty of stalls selling street food; possibly the most delicious we tasted on our trip. One of our favourite stalls sold origami cards. I loved the intricate detail of these delicate works of art – they make a very special souvenir.
There were plenty of fascinating places to see. We visited Ho Tay (West Lake) which has a beautiful temple, Chua Tran Quoc, on an little island. It was like stepping back in time – so peaceful and serene.
On the return journey, we passed the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. He was a Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader, prime minister (1945–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). The mausoleum is absolutely enormous!
We went to a second lake, Ho Guam, in the old city. In attractive Den Ngoc Son, or Temple of the Jade Mountain, there are many beautiful decorative gates and the graceful temple complex. There’s also a preserved turtle that lived to a grand old age. One or more large turtles still inhabit the lake. if you catch sight of a giant turtle’s head above the water it’s a lucky sign.
A highlight of our time in Hanoi was a visit to the incredible Thang Long Water Theatre which was a great treat. The exact time when water puppetry began in Vietnam is not known, but records show it must have been aroudn in the 11th century. It was first confined to the royal palaces of the Le and Nguyen dynasties and began showing up at village festivals and ceremonies. Originally performed in rice paddies “modern water puppetry is now performed on traditional ponds in villages where a staging area has been set up, on portable tanks built for traveling performers, or in a specialized building where a pool stage has been constructed.” (Wikipedia)
We couldn’t quite imagine how it would work until we went in for one of the performances – it was richly cultural and extremely skilful. The wooden puppets, often weighing up to 15kg, are controlled using long bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface. It was only when the pupeteers stood to take a bow that we could see how it was done. A richly cultural and extremely skilful performance well-worth a visit.
Hanoi is a city that defies logic; it is busy, bustling, and a mixture of two halves combining the old and new areas in an attractive and beguiling hotch potch. Hanoi is simply magical.
Lynne Gray has travelled to many countries around the world and is passionate about conscious travel & tourism, friends, gardening, soul & chocolate. She recently returned from South East Asia You can read more on her blog That’s PR, follow her on Twitter @lynnerosie and like her Face Book Page That’s PR.
Now you have got a taste of what Vietnam has to offer, have a look at our Vietnam Discovery Tour. You can explore the history and culture of Ho Chi Minh City, relax in enchanting Hoi An on the coast, enjoy the spectacular scenery of Hue, visit vibrant Hanoi and take a memorable cruise in gorgeous Halong Bay. View our enticing Indochina, Thailand and Burma Brochure here or contact us direct for more information on our tailor-made holidays.
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