Good bye Vietnam

What an amazing time we have had here in Hanoi. Such a generous welcoming people. Our hotel staff couldn’t do enough for us and as someone who knows a bit about customer service I have to say that they excelled. Well done to the Essence Palace Hotel.

Our hotel was situated in the old quarter of the city so in convenient walking distance of some of the major attractions. Being of a librarian bent I couldn’t pass up a trip to see the ‘Temple of Literature’

This was not only a monument to Confucianism and its system of thinking but also an example of tertiary education from the 10th century.

The kings of Early Vietnam realised that they needed an educated administrative class so they set up this seat of learning where men could sit exams to become mandarins. There were various stages and different tests. Not everyone made it. The ‘college’ could accommodate 300 students and they all wore simple robes.

These are some of the kings who promoted learning & wisdom as an objective in its own right.

The highest level exam is the doctorate and once achieved the mandarin had their names inscribed on these stales which are set in the backs of turtles (a sacred animal). It’s a bit like degree notification on a more permanent basis!!

I loved this gate – the gate of amazing alliteration!

After this we visited the Hanoi Hilton prison which was constructed by the French and used to hold political prisoners. I thought it was quite funny that the French didn’t trust the Vietnamese bricks so had their own imported to build a strong enough prison.

Conditions inside were particularly brutal but despite the best efforts of the French the place became a training ground for the future communist party leaders! I think that it was keeping everyone so close together that enabled ideas to spread easily.

In the Second World War the American pilot prisoners of war were housed here but were given considerable freedom and good treatment so that it was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton! Ironically a good chunk of the site had been sold off to a large, well known hotel chain…

What remains is a moving monument to the struggle for independence by the Vietnamese people

The next day we visited the old capital of Nimh Binh. This site is surrounded by landlocked karsts which provided excellent fortification but is now known as Halong Bay inland!

Here we had an awesome boat trip in a bamboo boat for 1.5 hours. We were rowed through spectacular scenery by a lady. The technique for rowing is an unusual one to us as they use their feet !!

Boy did she have strong legs! It was quite an industry as there were hundreds of boats on the river and some of the rowers were not young!!!

Halong Bay day

No trip to Hanoi is complete without visiting the fabulous natural beauty of Halong Bay. Kevin had pre-booked this trip and it started with a 2.5 hour transfer in a luxury minivan

The seats reclined and had massage options! Bernice is using hers in this picture!!!

The boat trip took 8 hours and we traveled between the limestone karsts admiring the scenery.

There are around 1600 limestone islands and islets which make up the Bay. Some of the formations are more than 20 million years old like this blow hole.

Only half of them have names. We visited Three Peaches but others were called Thumb, Toad or Amazing Cave!!!

According to legend the Bay was formed when the gods sent down dragons to protect the Vietnamese from invaders. These dragons dropped jewels from their mouths into the Bay, creating the islands as a barrier against invading ships. Instead of returning to the heavens the dragons plunged into the waters and remain there.

Some filming for Bond’s ‘Tomorrow never dies’ took place here.

After a sumptuous lunch we took a bamboo boat into the cave of dark & night with beautiful stalagtites.

And monkeys

Bernice was only a little bit terrified

(Of the boat not the monkeys) But our lady rower did a great job and kept us safe

The afternoon saw us having an on board cookery class where we made our own spring rolls. This was great fun as we made the men have a go. Unfortunately our rolls had to be re-rolled by the chef before frying! But they tasted delicious.

Final stop at a floating fishing village to see the traditional way of life. Here they kept fish farms with some ginormous fish for days when the water was too rough to set sail. They kept dogs to protect the farms from thieves.

It wasn’t glorious sunshine but the day was truly beautiful.

Food Porn!

Half term is here at long last and we have Mike and Bernice over to stay so we have headed up to Hanoi to get some north Vietnamese experiences.

We booked ourselves a private walking tour of the street food and what a gastronomic delight that was. Our tour guide took us down tiny alleys to places that we would never had dreamed of going. It was a flavour of authentic Vietnam.

First up was the frog market, so called because if the police turned up lots of the stalls would jump up and disappear only to pop back when the coast was clear.

Here you can see all the fresh food. Locals would shop here several times a day to ensure they had the freshest ingredients.

Next stop was the spring roll lady. These rolls were pork and vegetables rolled in rice pastry. The tiny stall cooks thousands of spring rolls every day!

The rice pastry makes it a lighter dish than the ones we are used to in Thailand.

Next up was the dumping stall.

On the right of the picture you can see the rice which has been soaked in water for 13 hours being mulched and the rice milk being extracted. The mulch is then squeezed to remove further excess water before being rolled up into dumplings or rolled out very thinly to make rice paper or pastry.

We had two types of dumpling here a sweet one and a pork one. Both absolutely delicious.

No photo but we next had a beef baguette- a legacy from the French colonial rule.

Then we stopped for pancakes. Two to be exact. These were stuffed with prawns and bean sprouts and eaten in rice paper wrapped up with fresh lettuce leaves and copious sprigs of mint.

As demonstrated by our guide here. The pancake itself was crispier than we are used to but very light and tasty.

These were next. Dragon eye omelettes. Smaller and stuffed with vegetables and mushrooms, again wrapped up with leaves in rice paper.

Just when we were starting to feel quite full we were taken to the main course! The best beef noodle shop in Hanoi.

This place was packed. It opens at 6am and closes at 10pm. It just serves beef noodles and beer. There was quite a queue to get in it was so popular! We would never have known it was so good if we hadn’t been taken.

I highly recommend this place to anyone who is visiting. I had mine with a dash of rice vinegar infused with garlic.

We were now 2 and a half hours into the tour and off to our final destination. The coconut ice cream and sticky rice shop!

… on low stools!

We declined the snails stall (shown here) and also insects (gross) and dog (even worse!!!) We have saved egg coffee for another day.

Feeling stuffed now…