A Travellerspoint blog

You'll be pleased that suddenly Hanoi is a bit chilly.....

... and Christmas is very evident in some streets in the Old Quarter: amazing glittery Christmas decorations, fake snowmen and Christmas music such as "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" and carols.

overcast 18 °C

Having experienced the heat and humidity of August and September, October, November and most of December have been glorious weather! If (when) you come and visit us or Vietnam in general and want to come north to Hanoi, Ha Long and Sapa, then these latter months have been like the best summer's day you can think of.... but every day! Temperatures ranging from 27 - 25, virtually no humidity, evenings are warm and the mozzies are getting tired of buzzing and eating people like me. And then suddenly on Saturday, it all changed. It was foggy, damp but still rather warm so long T shirt weather. Going out on the motorbike, we did wear our cagouls as we felt it really wasn't wet enough to warrant the Vietnamese all-in-one cape although we do have them at the ready. Maybe we should also get the sort which cater for two of you on the one motorbike (we would have to remember to co-ordinate getting off the bike, of course!). Then today the temperature has dropped to 13 degrees and it feels really cold...........


The motorbike is really a scooter but no-one here understands when I use that term. We beetle off at the weekends around the city, parking is plentiful and always where you want to be. I must get someone to take a photo of us on the bike as we must look rather odd - two very tall people with long legs on this machine! I'll potter around on the scooter locally but don;t feel I have enough control yet to go into town. However, my bicycle is a different matter and today I cycled back with friends from our Vietnamese lesson, through the rush hour, grid locked roads as no-one will give an inch and you just worm your way through. If you've seen any of the numerous You Tube posts of Hanoi traffic, you'll know that it looks fairly hairy and chaotic but the trick is to remember to only worry about what's in front of you and, for us, to cycle/drive like a local and then you won't surprise anyone with any English road mannners!



I went out yesterday on my bike for some exercise and spent about 3 hours cycling around the Old Quarter, taking some photos and then up to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. There were rather grey, leaden skies which I thought were a suitable backdrop to the austerity of the mausoleum: I want to go one clear evening to take a photo of it when it is all lit up - it does look very impressive.


Nick and his cycling pals wax lyrically about being out on their bikes and I find myself doing so too but my cycling approach is slightly different. I go out to enjoy myself, look at the world around me, stop if I want to take a photo or (as in the Old Quarter yesterday) just watch the traffic for a bit and see what comes round the corner. Just because I don't arrive home in a complete lather doesn't mean I haven't had a good time or had some exercise!


Posted by langforda 04:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi december oldquarter Comments (0)

It's December and we've been here almost 4 months..

.. and ready for a trip home to see everyone: hopefully The Big Thaw will have happened by then!

sunny 23 °C


November seems to have whizzed by and now we are only two weeks from heading home for Christmas. As you will know, I'm not a great Christmas fan anyway: far too commercial, far too much spent on unnecessary items and food and then it's all over in a flash and you spend weeks/months hearing how much the country owes on its credit cards. At least here in Hanoi, Christmas is a very low priority. Oh! Except for the odd enclave of shops in the Old Quarter and even I did a double take of a larger-than-life-sized Father Christmas standing "ho, ho,hoing" and rocking on his heels!

I have now established a regular pattern of going to the Will to Live Centre in Linh Dam, to the south of Hanoi. It is a residential centre for young adults with disabilities, mostly physical; the objectives of the centre is to improve their employment prospects through IT skills, web design and use of English. It is run by the most remarkable brother and sister, Hung and Van, themselves physically disabled, and the centre occupies three apartments in different blocks in a quiet residential area. There was a new intake of students about 6 weeks ago so I started with them! They run their own apartments, housekeep, shop and cook and there are "house rules" which they set out. The students pay towards their board and lodging and personal expenses and the shortfall is made up through the hard work of Hung and Van. I play a very small part in that I do English conversation with them and support Thuy in their classes. I love going: they are so welcoming and easy going which belies a determination in each of them to work hard and be independent. We laugh a great deal and they have now begun giving me short Vietnamese lessons and are so patient with this wretched Englishwoman who just can't get the tones right! Actually what it does mean is that I understand exactly how they feel when I am working with them to pronounce the sound "th" and then they try and get me to say a Vietnamese sound and tone. Hung has been credited with many awards in Vietnam not only for his work with the centre and raising awareness of disabled groups but also for his entrepreneurial skills. I think one of the highest awards here in Vietnam is that of "Hero" and Hung has received this. If you are interested in knowing more about this extraordinary centre, let me know and I'll give you the website. As ever, the centre is very strapped for money. Hung runs his web design business employing former students of the centre and Van works in an office each evening. They are incredibly hard working, for others, and they need more donations to pay basic rent and utility bills, functioning wheelchairs for the students and to improve their facilities.


Nick and I were invited to a concert in a beautiful garden about 2 hours west of Hanoi. There was a string quartet from the Vietnamese National Orchestra and a great "picnic". The whole event was so relaxed, very calming, interesting other guests and generous hospitality.


Nick has found a few cycling pals and has been out on a Saturday morning for a 50km ride over the Red River and also early morning dashes around West Lake. He and I went out the other Saturday morning around the lake and whereas I like to look around me, pootle along at a gentle speed this clearly was rather frustrating for Nick so at the coffee stop, he suggested I carried on round and he would burn up the concrete going the long way back...... I never said I was one of the Chiltern Boys! Anyway, what all this has confirmed is that he won't be bringing his very nice carbon frame road bike back out with him after Christmas as the road surface would wreck it within a few miles. So I go out in the week on my own, with my camera, or off shopping etc. and really enjoy seeing what's going on.


My next job is to find myself a motorbike so I can go further, faster and especially down to Linh Dam. Nick and I thought a Honda Wave but the girls in his office were rather horrified and said "Amanda must have a scooter": they are much more ladylike, especially when wearing a dress!! Nick's not so sure how he will look on a scooter though!


Posted by langforda 05:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagoda hanoi Comments (0)

Hue for the weekend..... in the (very) rainy season

rain 27 °C


Nick saw a great package for a new spa resort in Hue, available as part of their soft opening for Vietnamese and expats and, as we needed a break from Hanoi, we booked up. The hotel will be wonderful. The Ana Mandara (and I haven't any special deal going on here for a bit of publicity) will be great when it's sunny, the beach whiter than it is now and the South China Sea a calm, blue/green: this weekend it looked rather like the North Sea at Whitby in August although the temperature was at least 10 degrees warmer! But it is the rainy season down there. By chance, we chose to visit the Citadel on Friday which was the only dry day they had had in weeks.


Hue is the ancient capital of Viet Nam and the main attraction is the imperial citadel remains of which still stand are very impressive despite being heavily bombed in the Tet Offensive in 1968 by the Viet Cong and USA. The former held out against in the fortified citadel for 2 months against American attack. I've read that subsequent typhoons and flooding caused further damage and it was generally neglected until Hue began to feature on the tourist trail in the 1990s. There is evidence of some restoration going on but it's clearly very slow and, what had been restored only 10 years ago, is in need of further work as large puddles on the floors were evident. The citadel is huge - far larger than we had realised - the Flag Tower is 120 ft high and from here the Viet Cong defiantly flew their flag during the bombardment: it can been seen from all over the city and the Vietnamese are a national of flag flyers. The symbolism of the buildings, their layout and decoration was really interesting. The emperor was truly king of all and there were strict rules and protocol including very separate living for men and women, first wife and concubines.


The Thai Hoa Palace (Palace of Supreme Harmony) is said to be in the best state of repair. It took only 10 months to build in 1805 43 m long and 30 m wide, high ceilings, 80 gilded beams decorated with gold inlay and red lacquer. It's where the emperor held audiences with the civil and military mandarins on either side and then ranked in lines - each rank marked with a carved stone. I explain all this as it only took 10 months to build..... an extraordinary engineering and physical feat!


The Purple Forbidden Palace was completely destroyed as were many other palaces and corridors. Added to this is the blackened, damp, mossy stone with weeds growing out of crevices, large open tracts of semi grass and it really is an amazing place. There was a beautiful temple, Thai Mieu, dedicated to the individiual emperors.


The hotel guide also took us to a pagoda overlooking the Perfume River and a garden surrounding the house of a mandarin: his great grand daughter (never did establish the relationship exactly) showed us round - again explaining day to day living in a mandarin house and the division of living for men and women. Nick of course had to enquire how the next generation were "begot" but he only got a laugh and a shrug for a reply. The garden had every tropical fruit you can think of and also a very healthy population of mosquitos who must have thought Christmas had arrived early when I walked in!


It then rained rest of the weekend but, in a lovely hotel, room overlooking the beach and sea, very good food, it could have been much worse. We did go back into Hue on Saturday afternoon and accepted an offer from a woman to take us across the Perfume River in her sampan. Of course we agreed the price first and set off. Couple of local V'ese were very entertained watching two tall Westerners get in and then fold ourselves up in the bottom of the boat. We never actually made it across to the other side. It's about 3 football pitches wide (says Nick) and we almost got there when she decided to row/punt us down river. We managed to avoid being taken to her home - a tiny boat with a tin box on top - to see her "two babies" and it did leave us feeling very uncomfortable. It isn't often that we get caught on the emotional train but we knew it was coming long beforehand.

Perfume River cropped with hue

Perfume River cropped with hue

I read somewhere that Hue should be more exciting than it is and we would certainly agree. One guidebook says of it, "Ask Vietnamese about Hue and they'll often remark that it's a sad and sleepy city". I'm sure it's better in the dry and sunshine; there's lots more to see in and around the city but maybe we'll go to Hoi An next.


Posted by langforda 02:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagoda hue sampan Comments (0)

Home in the rush hour on the back of a motorbike

A London cabbie would never ask their passenger how old they especially as they are about to pay but then this is Vietnam!

sunny 24 °C

It's Wednesday, about 5.30 p.m. so height of the mad rush, lovely warm evening and I want to get home. No taxis around and a "xe om" pulls up. Translated literally it means "vehicle hug" and therefore a motorbike! To get around you can hail a taxi - either car or motorbike. The latter usually wait at strategic corners, their drivers perched on the bikes (or asleep - I've borrowed one of Heather and Katy's photos here so credit to them and hope you don't mind!) and they will call out to you, asking if you want a xe om taxi. They are much cheaper than a conventional taxi but then you have to be prepared to ignore the Hanoi traffic around you. It seems that the majority of Hanoians have a motorbike and it perhaps explains why most girls wear trousers, even at the height of summer as tight, short skirts can be tricky on a motorbike. Have to say girls who sit sidesaddle on the bikes do look very glamorous especially as they invariably wear very high heels too!


I just want to get home so agree a price of 40,000 Dong: I probably paid over the odds but a taxi at that time of evening would have been double but I agreed it only if he went slowly! Nick gets a xe om in some mornings; his xe om waits for him each morning and he does say he is rather mad and nips in and out of the traffic at an alarming speed. I don't need a knuckle duster ride!


He goes the wrong way so I get him back on course and suggest the route home. Admittedly he is careful and once we have a bit of open road (think Toad!), we crack along. I am now poised, by the entrance to our alley, with my hands on my wallet when he makes a BIG mistake. He asks how old I am. That's fine - this is Vietnam and its very important everyone knows how old others are so they can be addressed correctly. HOWEVER, he guesses my age................. 70. 70! I shriek, 70! I had been thinking of giving him a tip as he had driven so carefully but really..... 70!

Posted by langforda 04:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (0)

65km bike ride from Hanoi to Ba Vi in support of KOTO

Vietnam is the most amazing country and what better way than to see it on a bike!

sunny 26 °C


Having arrived in August to high humidity and heat (and that was somewhat cooler than July!), we are experiencing the seasons for the first time and I now see why the guide books say October/November are the best months to visit northern Vietnam. I'll let you know how the rest of the year compares (spring is also said to be really good too!). To wake up 95% of the mornings to sunshine and know the temperature will be around 26 degrees (gradually dropping week on week) is bliss for me as I really feel the cold. Saturday was no exception. Breakfast at our rendenzvous point and then a mass exodus. Nick assured us we would very quickly spread out and we wouldn't see even half of the others on the ride except at morning tea time and he was right. The first bit was partly on busy roads, under the motorway and then wending through towns and villages.

The organisation was brilliant. We were all given bike numbers to be logged at morning tea and the end; we had a very detailed booklet giving emergency bike repairs/first aid mobile numbers and very precise directions, including photos of every junction. There was a KOTO trainee at every junction anyway just to make sure we were all OK and some of the junctions were miles in the middle of nowhere, alongside dykes.


We were a compact team of five - Athene, Iben, Lars, Nick and myself - Team" To Infinity and Beyond" which Iben and I felt reflected the aspirations and potential of KOTO and its trainees and some of us riders......!


It was flat all the way except for the last 10 km which were "gently undulating". We cycled on busy city roads, through hectic, chaotic towns and villages, through rice paddies, flower growing fields (I made sure I took some photos for my parents - Vietnam farming being somewhat different to North Lincolnshire and the rose buds individually wrapped in newspaper before being cut), noodles drying on verge, water buffalo swimming, wooden horses and tall cranes being carved, serene lakes, smelly rivers and streams, brickworks...... take a look at the photos. I'll also add more in when Lars and Athene send me copies of theirs. One photo that will be included whether it is blurred or not was of a huge pig in a basket on the back of a motorbike, snout and tail protruding either end. Athene summoned extra energy, racing after the pig on her bike with camera in hand! Once in smaller towns and villages, kids were out on the street all the way shouting "hello, hello" (one even shouted "y're awright!") and putting their hands out for "high fives". As we were at the back of the pack, some kids were very confident and had got the hang of the high fives whilst some were clearly just plucking up courage to stick their little hands out and then the giggles as we cycled on!


We were one of the last to leave the start and that continued all the way - one of the last to arrive at a great morning tea stop (plenty of photos there) and then one of the last to leave there, next watering stop was the same but arriving at Ba Vi was great! KOTO had laid on a really good lunch, cold beer and some shade. Perfect!

Ba Vi is an agricultural tourism homestead offering day and overnight stays in the national park and encouraging people to explore the areas and agriculture. Stunning scenery, very peaceful and (as we now know) only 60k from Hanoi. We'll certainly go back although I may not join Nick cycling up Ba Vi itself - just one hill/mountain too high!


Posted by langforda 20:10 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagoda bike bavi Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 33) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 »