Continuing our 2020 saga of travel interrupted. . .
In March 2020 we had embarked on a 3-week tour of Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. Little did we know that we were about to be summoned back home by our illustrious leader who was concerned about Canadians abroad being exposed to COVID 19. Turns out that was a reasonable concern. As I write this there have been just under 6 million deaths worldwide due to this virus.
We had just flown in to Hanoi from Singapore (read about our 3 days in the Lion City HERE). Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and is located in the north of the country. It is known for its centuries old architecture and vibrant culture – including Chinese, French and South East Asian influences.
We were driven in the middle of the night through deserted, narrow streets until we arrived at our destination, La Siesta Ma May Hotel in the Old Quarter. This was a boutique hotel that combined modern and French colonial styles resulting in sumptuous accommodations. Our room was lovely.
Next morning we were able to glance out over the city. Goodness! We were located in the heart of the Old Quarter and the population density was very apparent. There were a lot of dilapidated buildings and structures in need of renovation and updating.
Down at street level there was a pleasant “chaos”. The narrow streets are arranged by the wares that are sold there. Walking around was a lot of fun – particularly the open air markets. Every kind of fresh produce, fish, meat that you could possible want was available. There were also fresh flowers, baskets of fruit, tanks of seafood and food stands. The Vietnamese have tiny little chairs arranged outside where visitors can dine “el fresco”. I suppose they don’t want you to get too comfortable!
When you are finished shopping for your perishable items, there were sections of the Old Quarter that sold motorcycles, clothing, appliances, leather goods, and musical instruments.
Motorcycles and bicycle “taxi’s” called “cyclos” or “tuk-tuks” are ubiquitous and a great way to get around the Old Quarter. One person per cyclo please!
Hanoi is a very walkable city. As we got out of the Old Quarter we enjoyed walking around Haon Kiem Lake which is located centrally in the city. Here you will find Hanoians relaxing, doing T’ai Chi, walking dogs and enjoying the beautiful trees, flowers and scenery.
When looking for refreshment, we were introduced to Vietnamese coffee, called Ca Phe Sua Da (Coffee, milk, ice). This is delectable concoction of a sweetened condensed milk base with strong coffee. We tried it on a couple of occasions – both hot and cold – yummy!
We also enjoyed the Tang Long Water Puppet show. Difficult to describe but highly recommended for a taste of Northern Vietnamese culture. Apparently the art form dates back to the 11th century when rice paddy fields were flooded in the Red River Delta. The puppets are controlled by puppeteers who are hidden behind screens using large rods. The effect is that the puppets are moving across the water. The performance is accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional instruments.
One of the most memorable outings we had while in Hanoi (which wasn’t closed down to us due to COVID) was visiting the World Heritage Site, the Trang An Cave Complex – a visually stunning mountainous area that has numerous caves you float through on your boat which is paddled by a solitary Vietnamese lady at the helm. The caves have provided shelter to humans for 32,000 years. See a very claustrophobic video of us paddling though one of the caves, below.
We enjoyed the Temple of Literature, The One Pillar Pagoda and the Taoist Quan Thanh Temple. Many other tourist attractions were closed to us, including the spectacular Halong Bay. It was very disappointing but Hanoi is worthy of our revisiting and doing some of the things that COVID prevented us from doing.
Alas, back to Canada less than a third of the way through our planned itinerary. Thailand and Cambodia will have to wait.