Vietnam: Up to the capital Hanoi

I left Hoi An the evening of the lantern festival at about 9.30pm and took a motorbike to Da Nang (which is the third biggest city in Vietnam) about 45 minutes away.  This was pretty exciting as we had my big bag wedged between my driver’s legs and small bag between me and him meaning my bum was precariously perched right at the back of the seat;  in addition it was dark and  my driver fancied himself as an Asian Valentino Rossi and was racing past all the other traffic!  Once in Da Nang I boarded my sleeper train which would be following the coast of Vietnam all the way up to Hanoi.

I really enjoyed the journey.  I shared a very comfortable 4-berth soft cabin with 2 Norwegian students and 2 Vietnamese ladies (in the 1 bed), and slept for about 10 hours.  In the morning I made my way to the buffet cart for some (surprise surprise) beef noodle soup, and spent the rest of the hours looking out the window at the rice fields and reading.  When the 16 hours was up and we arrived in Hanoi, I would have happily stayed on the train!  It was a really good experience in all, and I thoroughly recommend it.

4 passenger trains a day in each direction ply the 36-hour route between Ho Chi Min City in the south and Hanoi in the north:

My cabin. Blanket, pillows and sheets provided.  Note the two Vietnamese ladies opposite my bed economising by sharing a bed toe-to-tail:

Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) in the buffet car for breakfast:

Once in Hanoi I was on the back of another motorbike for the short hop across town to my hostel.  Although the traffic wasn’t as heavy as Ho Chi Minh, it was just as hairy as the streets were much narrower:

My driver had a Man United badge on his bike and you can see the symbol absolutely everywhere in Vietnam; but don’t expect these ‘fans’ to know anything about United as the badge is more of  a fashion symbol in South East Asia, much like the NY Yankees badge is in the UK:

The United badge appears on the banner above this shop entrance too;  underneath Hanoi residents enjoy tea on miniature stools.  Tea is served either hot or with ice but has no milk, sugar or anything else added:

I took the afternoon and the next day to have a look around Hanoi.  As this was the stronghold of the communist North Vietnamese army in the war, there is a more Soviet feel to the place with some huge concrete architecture in places, but it also retains its oriental roots, for example at the Confucian Temple of Literature.

Constructed in 1,070, the Temple of Literature was the first Vietnamese university and was dedicated to the Confucian philosophy, and its sages and scholars.

The big bell at the temple/university, presumably to tell the monks and scholars when their noodle soup was ready or when it was time to meditate:

Ho Chi Minh is the Vietnamese national hero who spearheaded the Northern Vietnamese army’s victories over the South, France and the USA.  Following his death in 1969 they embalmed his body and it can still be seen in his mausoleum (I didn’t see it because it was closed when I visited).  Each year it is sent to Russia for 3 months so they can spruce him up and keep him looking good.  His Mausoleum:

There are several lakes dotted around the city centre which make Hanoi an attractive place to walk around.  This is a pagoda on the lake which is lit up at night:

After a few days of sightseeing in Hanoi I noticed that in the general the people acted quite differently to the places I had been in the centre and south of the country.  For the first time on my trip I actually found the locals, in general, to be quite rude and unfriendly, which appeared to be a view shared by other travellers I met, people I met from South Vietnam, and even some people I spoke to from Hanoi!  Not to say there weren’t some exceptionally nice people in Hanoi, because there were, but on the balance of things I found the normal everyday people like the shop and restaurant vendors to be slightly depressing.

So after a few days I decided to check out the nearby Halong Bay which seems to be a trip on everybody’s itinerary.


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