A Travellerspoint blog

I'm catching up with many months of Hanoian activity

.... having had lots of great visitors, been to new places and experienced and seen so much more, it's time to sit down and summarise some of it in the blog.

I'm writing this on 17 August. It's past high summer but, even so, today the temperature is around 32 and humidity is OK. At least you don't need to wipe the moisture from one's top lip every few moments. Nice! Mangoes are in season here in the north and we have several trees in the garden so I made (even though I say it myself) rather nice ice cream. Our garden is amazing with its fruit trees - mangoes, kumquat, coconut, pomelo, star fruit, sapodilla and chilli plants and all bear masses of fruit. The vine going up the house had lots of bunches of tiny grapes so "Anh from next door" has picked them all and busy making wine. I think it should really be called "happy" or "fire" water! Lotus flowers are in full bloom although once cut and in this heat and humidity, they only last 24 hours.

My lack of writing up anything here is really because we've been busy.

I should really give an update on all our visitors so far to Hanoi and we have most of October and November booked too! We've had so many visitors since we got back from Australia in the middle of February: the Jennings, my parents, the Baileys, Brian, Anna, 3 generations of the same family converging on us from Western Australia and France.


My parents walking in Sapa with Mai, our guide, and two friends.

Three of the Cookes came out from Buckinghamshire as they made their way around half of SE Asia and Alys had her 21st birthday here in Hanoi. Larissa came in July for a few nights before heading off Thailand and then back to reality and first day in the first job! Good luck, Larissa! Our youngest, Peter, arrived for a few nights late July before he and friends head off around Vietnam and Cambodia. Brother in law Peter, Sam and Daisy came for 10 days and we had such a fun time. Hanoi, Mai Chau and then down to Hoi An: more on those later but they really felt they saw so many different aspects of Vietnam. We did overlap in Hoi An; not every lad wants his mummy to keep popping up but they all seemed OK about it and we did buy them dinner: then Nick happened to be in Saigon as Peter arrived on the overnight bus from Da Lat so breakfast was on Dad!

Daisy, looking every bit a Vietnamese in the warm rain!

The Cloughs beds weren't cold when Lette, Jess and Anna arrived, courtesy of The Link. A long story and very tenuous connections but they arrived, spent a night here, caused some chaos, were very entertaining and good fun. The house was very quiet after everyone had left but I had day trip to Laos to look forward to as I had to leave the country to renew my visa

Vientiane_..uang_20.jpg (have to go back....)

and then a long weekend down in Da Nang. Well, all these places have to be visited........


It's truly so good having people to stay. As we so enjoy living out here, taking people around Hanoi or suggesting places they might like to visit is certainly no chore. Each visitor sees Hanoi and Vietnam, or elements therein, in a slightly different way and that, in turn, makes us look again at things which we may now have become accustomed too. And some great memories with each.

We've both been back to England for a holiday in May - Nick didn't make Phillip and Gina's wedding (I had a wonderful day) but he did manage to get out of Hanoi to go on his annual cycling tour - this year around the west coast of Scotland. Nick cycles here in Hanoi three early mornings a week but life on the road in Scotland is somewhat different to Vietnam.

Nick (R) and Brian on our way to the cham temples at Son My, Hoi An.

In June we went away a couple of times including down to Cua Lo, on the north central Vietnamese coast and more on that later. I also went to Lisbon for Alexander's happy wedding.

In between all the visitors: we've had weekends away; explored Hanoi more on our own; Nick's been working on the project and cycling and playing tennis; I've been helping to teach English at the Will to Live Centre and had some sessions teaching children in the same community. Life's fun!

Peter gets back from his travels next week and Laura and Ed (and Jules from Brisbane) arrive together on the Monday - all for 10 days. Hurrah. All of us together for the first time in a year. It's far too long for us all to spend time as a family but that's how it is and we shall enjoy every moment. Blog details and photos to follow especially as we are heading up to Ha Giang, by the Chinese border, and hiriing motorbikes and setting off with a mechanic....

Ha Giang sure won't look like this......

Posted by langforda 06:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vientiane family transport sapa hanoi hoian danang grandparents Comments (0)

The Parents visit Hanoi

overcast 16 °C

For those who know us well will also know that my parents are in their mid/late 70s and not shy of "doing things". Today they returned to the UK, via 3 days of luxury and heat in Singapore. We have done so much during their month here with us and it's just a real shame that Hanoi is experiencing most unusual cool and wet weather in March: when I was out here last year, I was in sleeveless dresses the whole time and loving the warmth. At least we could move around without getting overheated though!


We started the holiday with 4 days in Siem Reap and had a great time going round about 6 of the temples. It was SO nice to have sunshine and warmth after the Hanoian winter and cold spring and I was hoping that by the time we returned, Hanoi would be warming up..... I'm still hoping.


We did so many things in Hanoi: the Revolution Museum, the Citadel, Fine Arts Museum, Jazz concert at the Opera House, One Pillar Pagoda, couple of day trips out of Hanoi and also 4 days up in Sapa. The paddy fields hadn't been planted yet so the landscape was so different to the one we had seen on our visit in September. No less glorious, just different.


So the bed linen is changed and ready for the Baileys' arrival on Thursday. I should be charging............

Posted by langforda 04:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagodas transport hanoi siemreap grandparents Comments (1)

Queensland is definitely open for business!

10 days visiting Laura and Brad in Brisbane.

semi-overcast 27 °C
View Queensland in February on langforda's travel map.

This is a very late posting for this blog as no sooner had we returned from Brisbane than Simon and Shelley arrived in Hanoi and then went and my parents arrived for a month. Photos and blogs on these will go up shortly but I'm far too busy having a fun time and taking photos to find time write much........ but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the photos of Brisbane. I've also done a compliation video of the trip.... hopefully I'll be able to upload that too or put the link to Youtube.


As Vietnam effectively closes down for two weeks during Tet, it was the perfect opportunity to visit Laura and Brad in Queensland especially as January and February had been quite cold and Australian summer sunshine had a certain appeal!

We had such a great time! It was so good to see where they live, socialise, work, meet some of their friends and generally get to know Brisbane much more. Our last and only visit was some years ago and we were only in the city for two nights before we all headed up to Port Douglas. This time was different and it's a great city! We stayed in a hotel in easy walking distance of Laura and Brad's apartment and the CBD. The Palace, beloved of backpackers and resting place for Nick, Laura and Ed in the past (and at different times!) was just down the road. We ate kangaroo, emu, croc, possum, nuts and berries, Chinese, Greek, Indian - good food!

Snapshot N&L Fr Island

Snapshot N&L Fr Island

Here's the Youtube link of a compliation video I messed about with which has some of the highlights of the trip!

Cyclone Yasi had been through the area near Cairns, northern Queensland, a day before we arrived so we saw plenty on their news channels; there were also the floods in Victoria and updates on the clean up operation for some of the towns outside Brisbane. But Queensland is open for business! As you will remember, Brisbane had unprecedented flooding in January but the city had worked hard to clean it up and remove the contaminated debris, mud and soil. The new boardwalk by South Bank had mostly been washed away and the trees along the river were stripped of all foliage to a certain height. The usual white struts on the bridges showed the tide marks and they were high. As we were moving around, Laura and Brad and showed us which areas, streets and houses had been underwater and those which had, by a miracle, escaped.

We had a day sailing from Sovereign Island with Geoff. A great breeze, mainsail and jib up and the catamaran was nipping along. The day was an experience not least as Laura's car broke down so we did spend a few hours waiting for the RACQ to turn up and tow it away but everything has a silver lining and so it meant we returned later in the week and spent a few hours in Surfers Parhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=14mfesw_maYadise, people watching and messing about in huge surf! Such fun!


Nick, Laura and I had 3 days on Fraser Island and barely scratched the surface of it. What an amazing place! The largest sand island in the world and perched on it is a rain forest. The freshwater lakes are said to be the freshest in the world and the sand at Lake Mckenzie is almost pure silica. We hired a 4x4 so we could move around the island independantly and were surprised how empty the island was. We heard that tourists either hadn't booked thinking that the floods rendered that coast and Brisbane unattractive or they had cancelled due to Cyclone Yasi. It was a shame for the tourist trade but wonderful for us: 75 Mile Beach to ourselves (no other vehicle in sight) and then a dingo appears from, seemingly nowhere, and trotted alongside the jeep. I think the photos say much more than I can.


Back to Brisbane and a day out in Coolangatta, again sitting on the beach and in the surf. Coolangatta is on the Gold Coast but further south of Surfers and certainly has a very different air about it; not nearly so built up or commercial and the beach far less crowded. Laura had read a very good review of the food in the Coolangatta Surf Club but we were "between menus" so just had a snack and a drink but there was a crooner with electric piano playing all the 60s hits we know and love so well and then there was a raffle -the prizes were different meat trays: breakfast, seafood, beef, BBQ - and SO many prizes but a winning number eluded Brad each time and he was often just one or two tickets out, a real shame! The Surf Club was a real experience!


How often do you go on holiday and leave planning the next trip but actually how often do those ideas come to fruition? Well, Laura and Brad aren't moving anywhere so we shall definitely be back and want to return to Fraser but also talk of us meeting in Darwin next time and exploring the Northern Territories a bit. Laura put the scale of Australia into context for us: we were driving back to Brisbane from Fraser and the journey was about 4 hours. That's roughly how long it takes us to get from Berkhamsted to Whitby and that's a approximately a quarter of the length of the UK; in Australia, that is a minute part of Queensland, never mind the whole continent!

We'll be back!


Posted by langforda 20:27 Archived in Australia Tagged beach family queensland brisbane Comments (0)

Tet and the lunar new year of the Cat

overcast 14 °C


This is our first Tet and I think my memories will also be of the kumquat trees being transported around Hanoi on the back of motorcycles and, the smaller ones, on bicycles. The really huge trees bound for the international hotels and vast public spaces go on trucks but it is, as ever, the motorbike which reigns king of transport here. The branches gently sway and the fruit bob along as the drivers weave their way through the traffic although with a little more caution: looking at the size of some of the trees (and sometimes up to 3 on a bike), there is considerable skill to keep the whole thing upright. Choosing your kumquat tree is as important as getting the right Christmas tree and you can either buy it from sellers on the street or you can go to the market gardens where the trees have been growing since about May last year.


Hanoi is on holiday now for a week. Tomorrow is the first day of Tet, 3rd, and therefore the first day of the year of the Cat here in Vietnam (Rabbit in China).

Tet preparations began 26th January which was Kitchen God Day. Depending on which myth you subscribe to, there are one or three kitchen gods who watch over the household during the year and on this particular day, they return to the Jade Emperor to report on the happenings and to then return with good luck, health and happiness for the family for the year ahead. To help the kitchen gods on their way, it is customary to release live fish into waterways so the gods can ride on their back. I tried to buy a fish to release my own kitchen god but I clearly wasn't going to any of the right places and I did cycle round Hanoi for about 2 hours looking. I was disappointed that people seemed to unceremoniously empty their plastic bag of live fish into West Lake. If they were aware of their actions, they took the plastic bag home with them or found a waste bin (not many in Hanoi); others left them by the lake side or, worse, chucked the bag into the lake after the fish. No wonder we have so many plastic bags now floating around our little lake! It also explains why so many fisherman stand for hours in the shallows of West Lake and frequently pull out enormous catches: last year's Tet fish!


I read Sam Meeking's fantastic book "Under Fishbone Clouds" last year and in this, Sam uses the Kitchen God as the narrator so I was delighted when I realised I did know something about household gods after all.

Hang Ma in the Old Quarter was a Christmas wonderland in December and now is all gold and red with Tet decorations everywhere. It has been pedestrianised for a week to allow easier movement but that didn't stop a funeral procession going down last week with musicians walking at the front, the cortege and bus loads of mourners. What you have to remember here is that "one way", "no entry" and "pedestrianised" doesn't mean YOU have to follow that rule - that's for everyone else, of course so the motorbike chaos continues.


Flowers are a big part of Tet. The Au Co flower market was heaving with people at the weekend: Nick and I managed to cycle through but I went down on Monday to take photos and turned around - I couldn't get my bicycle through the people and jam never mind finding somewhere to park it.
The market gardens down by the river will let you wander around their plots, taking photos, choosing your own blooms and also letting you dig up plants to transplant into your own garden. I took the photos and the rooted plants although the 5 I bought only transpired to be 3 by the time I got home with them sticking out of my backpack!

Being Vietnam, food is an important element of Tet and we have been given some Tet specialities. Banh trung which is a square cake made from sticky rice with ground pork and green bean in the middle, wrapped in what I think are palm leaves or similar (not banana anyway) and then boiled for 10 hours. I'm not a huge meat eater to start with but this is certainly something different if somewhat tricky to eat as it is sticky! But they will last some weeks. The other food is something called "gia" which is a 6" diameter roll of what can only be described clearly as Spam. We saw a programme on VTV on how this is made but it actually tastes OK. Nick is keener on it than me but then he eats meat "properly"!

I was out on the bike the other day and, round the corner from our house, I saw a pig with his nose in a bucket, grunting at a yappy puppy who also wanted some food. There so much building work going on all around Hanoi and it spills out onto the street. The workmen live on site in pretty basic conditions but this is the first time I'd seen a pig on site! He had gone within the week so I think he's now part of someone's sticky rice cake. I did take a video of him and have also posted it on YouTube so I'm pleased he was able to have his 30 seconds of fame first.....


Temples and pagodas are immaculately kept anyway but extra attention given for Tet and kumquat trees and orchids decorate the door ways: the Kim Lien temple near our house is a particularly peaceful complex, recently renovated and looking very lovely today in the sunshine!


The Vietnamese do special occasions so well and seem to always put on performances - usually with singers and dancing. There are stages erected in the main public areas in Hanoi and I saw these children waiting to rehearse near Hoan Kiem lake. At night the lake is lit: the Party HQ as brilliantly lit as the Tortoise Tower!

Posted by langforda 02:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagoda transport hanoi tet Comments (0)

Brrrrrr. A chilly January in Hanoi

A great Christmas in England with the boys, family and friends and back to an apparently much colder winter than usual in Hanoi but that hasn't curtailed activities and generally enjoying the city.

overcast 12 °C


Nick and I arrived home early morning of 18th and 4 hours and 4" of snow later, Heathrow closed for days: we were so lucky! We had a great time - Christmas with my family in North Lincolnshire. This is the scene Christmas morning. Meeting up with Nick's family and lots of friends. We didn't see nearly everyone so sorry to those we missed - two weeks wasn't enough and the weather really scuppered some of our plans!


This is our first Hanoi winter and we had heard tales of clothes going mouldy in the wardrobe as it's so damp and cold; actually it has been dryer than usual, I think, but also our house is quite exposed so we get any breeze and sunshine which must help to combact any damp. However, it hasa apparently been most colder than usual. I think the average maximum temperature must have been about 13 whilst the BBC website quote the average maximum as 20. The only heating anywhere are reverse air con units which throw out warm air and consequently you need to be in the air flow to get the benefit! People eat in restaurants with their coats on but street food carries on as usual - sometimes it's warmer outside than in!


The 11th Party Congress was held mid January. 1300 delegates to be transported from hotels mostly around us here in the north of Hanoi down to the convention centre to the south of the city. They were moved through the city 4 times a day and therefore the city was brought to a standstill each time. The Vietnamese love colour and decorations and every event, they really know how to decorate the city. For the Congress, there were banners everywhere and pictures of Uncle Ho. Huge effort goes into these events and it does show. Nick and I went out on the motorbike one weekend and got caught in a traffic jam. Motorbikes as far as the eye could see (as below!) He managed to get the front of the queue and, as I could see over everyone's heads, I told him when the last bus was coming through so he started up the engine, I sat down and everyone followed suit... we were off!


Then once the Congress was over, the banners and floral decorations were taken down....


and replaced with Tet decorations:


I love the posters up everywhere. Very simple, straightforward and patriotic. I've begun a tag called "propaganda" to record the ones I like.

Happy Government, Happy Spring

Other things in January? Nick played golf in Tam Dao and while he played with Cheong, Anna, their children and I visited the Buddhist and Zen centre in the forest and the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre. It was typical, high altitude mist and fine rain and whilst it was a shame not to see the reputed stunning views of Tam Dao, the light and mist gave the area a different atmosphere.



I go cycling most days - go to the market to buy the day's veg or just to get out and about, especially if it's a lovely day. Anyone who has been to Vietnam knows what amazing loads are carried on the back of motorbikes - and bicycles often. Animals and birds in cages, dead and alive, entire hardward shops on a bike or a crockery shop, 3m steel rods, loo paper towers, mirrors, glass, helium balloons, fridge - basically, you name, it will go on a motorbike. I don't think Nick and I will ever cease to be amazed at what is transported by bike nor how the drivers maintain their balance (they don't always and we have seen the odd or two who have fallen over). I'm going to do a separate blog on Tet and lots of transport photos... but here are my January favourites - the egg lady was especially jaw dropping. The photo isn't great but you have to snap what you can....

Even the taxi driver I was with slowed up, pointed at this lady and laughed. She had dozens of plastic bags containing eggs tied to every part of her bike: extraordinary!



Posted by langforda 22:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged propaganda transport hanoi congress tamdao Comments (0)

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