Going to see Vietnam has been on my list for several years now, and I was more than thrilled to finally make it. I had heard from several people that the best parts of the country are the towns between Hanoi (in the north) and Ho Chi Minh (the south). Fellow travelers I met over the years said the best way to get from place to place is to find a tour or a guide. After a lot of research and cost comparison, I decided to join a “G adventures” tour. G adventures is the same tour group that I hiked Machu Picchu with so I knew they would be good. It was nice to have all the logistics taken care of – transportation, places to stay. But it was also nice to have the freedom to do what we wanted once we made it to each town. Our leader would offer up suggestions but no one was bound a schedule. I arrived in Vietnam a few days before the tour began – my visa from Indonesia was running out so I had to leave. I flew into Ho Chi Minh on Saturday and then flew up to Hanoi on Sunday afternoon. I spent the rest of the day just wandering the streets. My favorite part were all the narrow streets:
On Monday I took a day trip to Hoa Lu & Tam Coc, two areas that are 2 hours south of Hanoi. Hoa Lu is the relics of the ancient capital and temples dedicated to King Dinh and King Le remain. The two heroes who lived in 10th century chose Hoa Lu to build the citadel of the capital city then. Archaeologists continue to excavate buried parts of the ancient citadel with rusty weapons and ceramics. The temples are said to be built on the old foundation of their original palaces from the 11 and 12th centuries, then restored in 17th century. Though the temples are not maintained entirely some precious antiques are still preserved such as the whole-stone dragon thrones, wooden and lacquered statues of King Dinh, Kinh Le, Queen Duong Van Nga – who in turn married both of the kings.
We took a short bike ride after lunch and saw some amazing landscapes.
Tam Coc translates to “Three Caves” and is very near to Hoa Lu. We took row-boat trip (they row the boats using their feet!) through the area’s three caves. The meandering river is lined by rice paddies and guarded by limestone cliffs, often inhabited by local goats.
On Tuesday, I took a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda, which is a vast complex of Buddhist temples built among the limestone hills and tropical forests in the area of Huong Mountain. The center of the complex is Chua Trong (inner temple) located in Huong Tich Cave.
We then took a cable car to the top of the mountain to see some views and to visit some other pagodas.
Last on the agenda was a row boat ride on the Yen Stream. While very relaxing, nothing extremely different from yesterdays river trip.
Wednesday was my chill day. I moved hotels because our group was meeting up that evening. I took a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake which is the centerpiece of Hanoi.
The highlight from this day is that I was able to find a new backpack!! If you’re a backpacker, you can understand the time and energy it takes to find the right one, as well as the high prices that are involved. Fortunately, a lot of things made in Vietnam are cheaper to buy! This pack cost over $350 on the internet, but a mere $20 on the streets of Hanoi! Check out my new traveling buddy:
Thursday, the group went to visit some Hanoi landmarks. The Mausoleum contains Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. The Ho Chi Minh Museum documents his life and the modern history of Vietnam.
The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) is Vietnam’s oldest institution of higher education. Dedicated to Confucious, the temple served as a national university for over 700 years educating Mandarins. Students at the time used an ideographic script based on Chinese.
And that wraps up my 5 days in Hanoi!!