The one consistent impression as we travelled around SE Asia has been incense. This is a bowl of hand rolled incense waiting for sale. Couldn’t resist the colours.
We chose to do a tour of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to get a feel for this country before we committed to spending an extended period of time in it. As it turned out we could easily have dove straight in, but none the less the tour was a ton of fun. And who is kidding who, there is something nice about being picked up by a private driver at the airport with your name on a sign. It is good to spoil yourself once in a while.
As we start our approach to Hanoi the sun was setting in Vietnam. The flight on Vietnam Airlines was a great introduction to Vietnam. Nice people, surprisingly good service and great food.
This street is in the old quarter of Hanoi just around the corner from our hotel Maison d’Hanoi Boutique Hotel. It was a perfect place to start our Vietnam experience. Fantastic staff at the hotel and right in the bustle of old Hanoi. Loved it!
Our tour of Hanoi was led by a fellow who was either a member of the communist party, or was waiting for his application to be processed because he was a bit over the top with the zealous propaganda. That being said it certainly highlighted for me the power of information and how it is disseminated. That is a huge part of travelling, the exposure to information outside the control of western press and government. It is not right or wrong, just interesting.
The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh is an interesting place. It is treated the same as a temple, which opens a number of questions, but I am just here to appreciate the culture.
The far cooler part of Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place was the fact that the Canadian embassy was on the same street.
The neat thing about this region is despite the politics of the government, Buddhism as a faith/belief is the one overriding consistency. No matter where we have travelled here Buddhism has been prevalent and unassociated with government. Quite refreshing.
The aroma of burned incense is everywhere. Whether you are in an apartment or walking down the road it is not unusual to smell the aroma of incense floating by.
Hoan Kiem Lake in old Hanoi that is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike. This was one of the army of workers tending the flower gardens.
There is no question that scooters are king here. Though right of way seems to be determined by size; bus over car, car over scooter. The sheer number of them makes it awe-inspiring.
I am not sure what kind of bad ass this guy is, but I loved the military covered scooter.
Of course the one thing you can count on in any Communist country are plenty of statues and posters depicting the strong dedicated workers rising up.
What is nice here is the statutes depicting soldiers and workers are fairly evenly balanced out with statues and displays honouring the thinkers and educators from centuries gone by.
After we had explored Hanoi a bit on our own we joined up with our tour company to begin that adventure. This time of year in Vietnam is late in the rainy season so our expectation was a lot of cloud and relatively poor visibility. We were not disappointed. Our first destination was to the tourist hot spot of Ha Long Bay.
The harbour where everyone boards their boats for the tour of Ha Long Bay gives you a bit of an idea of how popular this destination is. However it is not until you are en route and are surrounded by several dozen other tour operators that you realize this is no tranquil commune with nature.
Having said that, there are still plenty of opportunities to tune out your immediate surroundings and appreciate some of the beauty this area has to offer.
I am not sure what my expectations were for the quality of accommodations on our tour, but I have to state that right from the beginning with the boat on Ha Long Bay the quality was excellent (we were staying in 3 star accommodations) but the level of service would make any Hilton or Fairmont blush with envy.
For a communist country I saw more entrepreneurial spirit and business smarts than anything I have ever seen before. This lady worked her little boat to every tourist boat in sight.
Did some kayaking with the group.
Explored a series of caves that are beautifully lit.
View from the top of Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay. The boats getting in position for the night.
After an excellent flight, our next stop was Hue, on the east coast. It was a bit hectic with sightseeing over the next few days but we did manage to catch some of the highlights of Hue and Hoi An while we were in Central Vietnam.
We were treated to a reenactment of some of the customs while we were exploring The Citadel in the Imperial City in Hue.
After seeing the Thien Mu Pagoda we took a cruise on the Perfume River back into Hue. Not the most scenic due to the weather, but a chance to just relax and prepare ourselves for a road trip to some tombs.
Unfortunately our time touring the royal tombs of the Nguyen dynasty was somewhat dampened by rain, it was still a good day. The thoughtfulness that went into the design of these was beautiful. And the fact they built them while the emperors were still alive so they could enjoy them I think is awesome.
Of course the advantage of touring places when the weather sucks is it is much less crowded.
The beauty of the symetry in design is something I alway enjoy.
On our bus trip from Hue to Hoi An we stopped for a break at this stop. Something we learned from our guide, the hammocks are for truck and bus drivers to get some sleep, not for tourists to relax.
Break time at a pearl farm. One of the negatives for me of these tours are the inevitable stops at “local”, “authentic”, or “family” enterprises to showcase the local culture. Really all they are, are a forced walk through of a tourist shop trying to sell things. I know it is a legitimate way to make money but because we travel in a manner that does not allow souvenirs I sometimes find these stops irritating.
A ceramics factory.
After our bus trip we stopped in Hoi An, a city just south of Danang. I loved this city with its narrow crowded streets and lively market action.
This lady was doing a humming business selling fresh vegetables.
While right across the street from her this lady was peddling chickens. Our time here has certainly redefined what “fresh” food means to me.
The French influence is very clear in Hoi An. This area was the centre of trade for a period of time and that is reflected in the French, Japanese, and Chinese styles.
The opportunities to capture the day-to-day life of the people here in the old town in Hoi An was wonderful.
No matter where we went you didn’t have to look far to see local dogs taking it easy on the sidewalks.
Also while we were in Hoi An we did a trip out to the archeological site of My Son. I found this a somewhat disquieting trip. It highlighted what can happen when cultures collide. From the 4th to the 14th centuries this was apparently a significant site for the ruling dynasty. However today it is mostly destroyed, either by the aerial bombardment by the US during the war (the Viet Cong had a major encampment here) or earlier when the French decapitated nearly every statue on the site to take the heads back to France.
Our guide (whose father fought for the Viet Cong) did an excellent job of presenting the information surrounding the site at My Son and the relationship and feelings some Vietnamese have toward the Americans. A difficult job for sure but handled with humour and a balanced perspective. Here he draped the Vietnamese flag over an unexploded American bomb to demonstrate they were making efforts to move past the war.
Our final stop on our tour was Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta. However, before we got there we had a couple of R&R days in Nha Trang. This was perfect for us as we had by now determined we quite liked Vietnam and we were able to use our free time to meet an agent and tour some apartments. In the end we committed to spending the first three months of 2017 enjoying this wonderful country. But I get a bit ahead of myself. First, and last, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta.
The south of Vietnam is all about the Mekong River. Our tour took us to a number of sites that allowed us to meet people who make their living from the river.
What struck me about this lady was how bloody content she seemed to be. Paddle in hand and going about her business on a little tributary.
We did a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon). After seeing them you realize why they were so effective during the war with the Americans.
Between all the serious topics we still took time to do the fun touristy things.
Ho Chi Minh City certainly is a place that harkens back to a time of colonialism and the things that were good, and bad about that. It is a big dirty city, and I liked it. This shot from the steps of the Opera House sum it up very well for me.
Our introduction to Vietnam is complete and now we look forward to getting to know parts of the country on a more day to day level. I cannot see it being anything but positive. Friendly people, interesting food and an amazing history. Bring it on!