South East Asia Part 1: Hanoi, Vietnam

9 Dec

I’ve been gone for a while. Hay bales have been blowing through the blog. If the blog were a house, it’d be well and truly haunted by now. However, I do have a good reason. For the last two weeks I’ve been working like a maniac, pretty much day and a lot of the night. So no time for blogging. And before that I was doing absolutely no work whatsoever gallivanting around South East Asia.

However, I actually have a bit of time to chill out and it’s been long enough since I got back from my tour of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand for me to want to relive the experience and hopefully help out anyone who is planning on visiting the area.

Getting around safely
Firstly, I just want to cover the safety element of South East Asia. As a single female traveller, my primary concern is always whether I’m going to be safe. When I’m in Europe or North America, I’m happy to wander about on my own but elsewhere in the world, places where I don’t really speak the language or know anyone, I’m always a little more cautious. When I wanted to visit Africa, I went on a tour with Oasis Overland and I’m glad I did. The tour was well run and I encountered enough harassment when I was walking around towns on my own to be very glad that I was on a tour rather than backpacking solo. When I went to Istanbul I took a male friend with me – the hour we spend apart saw men shouting at me, grabbing me – not making me feel comfortable at all. However, I knew that might be the case, hence why I went with a male friend for protection.

I went to South East Asia with Tucan Travel (exact tour I went on is hyper linked) and the tour was great – really flexible and allowed me to do what I wanted but with the safety net of a tour guide if I needed him. Which I didn’t. I encountered only friendly, lovely locals, no harassment and I’d now happily return to South East Asia backpacking on my own without worrying about my safety. Obviously you need to be careful but I always am, even when I’m mooching around London late at night.

So, onto the to-dos and experiences you can experience in Hanoi, the only place I really visited in Hanoi. I’ll be doing another two blog posts, covering Laos and Thailand, shortly. I promise!

VIETNAM
Hanoi

IMG_5698 Eat: Bun Bo Nam Bo comes highly recommended… and now it’s highly recommended by me. By far the tastiest meal I had in Hanoi, Bun B Nam Bo is not only the name of a cafe but it’s actually the speciality dish they serve: it’s basically a beef noodle salad, but delicious (this is coming from a person who doesn’t really like beef!) The cafe is small and you know it’s good because it’s full of locals, not tourists (if in doubt, eat where the locals eat. Think about it: you never see a Londoner go inside an Aberdeen Angus Steak House).
The food is lovely, CHEAP (then again, everything is in Hanoi) and it’s a great, authentic Vietnamese dining experience. I mean just LOOK at the yummy photo above.

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See: HaLong Bay is one of those places that you’ll find people say you HAVE to go to. Sorry, but I’m one of those people now too. I went on a day excursion from Hanoi, but I’d recommend doing an overnight trip if you have the time.

The bay is beautiful – misty when you first get there, but once you sail in a little further everything clears up. The sea is perfectly blue, the rock formations are incredible and it’s just completely… relaxing. The Vietnamese government are moving the locals who live in floating villages out of the Bay because it’s not economically sustainable (apparently) to let them stay. So, I managed to get to see the floating villages which was lovely. Definitely get a wooden boat ride through the caves, the photo opportunities are amazing and you get to see parts of the bay the bigger boats just can’t take you to.

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Also, make sure you stop by a few of the many caves in the Bay. I went to Dong Thien Cung (above), one of the larger caves and I’d say it’s worth going. However, due to all of the multicoloured lighting they don’t feel natural any more.

The best thing is just soaking up the scenery. Floating around. Marvelling at how bloody beautiful the place is and how in the middle of nowhere you feel you are. If you’re in Hanoi, you MUST go.

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See: The Old Town of Hanoi is crazy. Madness. And it’s glorious too. You wander through the  narrow streets, shops filled to the brim with goods and food and people. And SCOOTERS. The only way to navigate the streets of Hanoi and the millions of scooters is to walk straight into the middle of the road, slowly. There are no crossings, traffic lights are ignored, people bike and drive down the wrong side of the street… the only way to cross the road is to walk slowly into the scooters (usually each scooters carrying at least 3 people – one I saw had 6 people) and move slowly.

Each street in Hanoi’s Old Town is named after the goods which used to be sold solely on that street – and for the most part, still are. Hang Bac, a street dedicated to jewellery. Hang Ma street should be saved for night time, when the street, full of shops selling red lanterns, lights up.
IMG_5537 You’ll also find Beer Corner – a corner in the Old Town full of bars where locals and tourist gather until 11pm (shutting down time in Hanoi) drinking beer and perching on tiny colourful plastic seats. You’ll see these tiny seats scattered outside every single bar and shop in Hanoi and you haven’t really experienced the city until you’ve found one of your own.

IMG_5490 See: The Temple of Literature and Hoan Kiem Lake are places you don’t need to spend a lot of time, but they’re well worth a visit (unlike, in my opinion, One Pillar Padoga). The lake is lovely (see above) but due to the sheer number of people I don’t think going inside the temple. Just wander around the lake, seek shade and relax.

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The Temple of Literature was actually holding a graduation ceremony the day I went there. The gardens are beautiful and it the temple at the back of the garden walk is nice too. I was there at the end of October, so that’s the time to see the graduate ceremony (lots of girls holding colourful balloons and everyone looking very happy).  The place is split into 5 courtyards, each dedicated to scholars and education. The walk there from the Old Town is interesting too and well worth a trip.

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