So next stop on the trip was Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived uneventfully via Vietnam Airlines (a nice experience, and although they are Skyteam unfortunately you can’t get Skymiles for flying them, boo) and there was a driver waiting for us to take us to our hotel, about an hour ride. Since it was evening, we couldn’t see much, but there was a lot of traffic, especially motorcycles, and it reminded me of Bangkok.
We then arrived at the Splendid Star Grand Hotel, where Martin, the owner, kindly welcomed us and offered us fresh mango juice, which we gladly accepted. He informed us that he had upgraded our room, which we proceeded to, juice in hand. Boutique hotels in Asia are adorable, again, towels folded into cool shapes (elephants this time) and rose petals everywhere. We crashed almost immediately so we’d be ready for our Hanoi kids tour the next morning.
A little background on Hanoi Kids Tours. The tours are operated by young high school or university students who are members of the Hanoi Kids Club. The concept of the club is helping youngsters improve their English by giving tours to people, therefore also getting a taste of new cultures and providing a great service to the community. We had heard rave reviews of the tour and couldn’t wait. We chose the tour option one, which was a tour from about 9-3 pm which included seeing the Temple of Literature, the Sword Lake and turtle pagoda, walking through the Old Quarter and the French Quarter, as well as the Ho Chi Minh complex. The tours are free, however you must pay for your guide(s) to eat lunch or a taxi with you if you use it. A great deal in my mind.
Our guides arrived promptly at the hotel at 9 am, Viet and Tung. They were both university students around the age of 20, and super nice. We started off at the lake, where they graciously took a million pictures of Jorge and I, and told us the legends and history of the lake and the pagoda. We also conversed about their families, their university and all sorts of things related to Vietnamese culture and food, and learned quite a bit from them.
From there we headed to the Temple of Literature, which was an old university and temple, where they explained to us a lot about the history of the temple.
I may have forgotten to mention earlier that it was over 100 degrees and humid outside, absolutely sweltering, so after this, we thought it to be a good idea to hit a museum (air conditioning!). We headed towards the Women’s Museum, which was a tribute to all things women in Vietnam.
The most interesting part was the documentary on women street vendors. They interviewed women on why they were selling things in the street, and it was a great insight to their culture and social status. Many of them live in villages and come into Hanoi all week and sleep in boarding houses with other women in order to sell as much fresh fruit, flowers and other items as they can in order to pay for their children to go to school.
The fashion exhibit was also enjoyable, though small, showcasing many different clothing items through the history of Vietnam. There was also a section on women who fought as guerrillas in the mountains, which was a great display of their bravery.
Now they we had cooled down a bit, headed back outside and asked the boys to take us to a local, sit down restaurant. They took us to Thuc Don restaurant, ordered for us and explained to eat each of the foods we ordered, which I of course made videos of.
Everything was absolutely DELICIOUS, especially the Bun cha, the pancake and the sticky rice. I was thrilled with the tour and their lunch spot choice.
After lunch we braved the heat once again, and strolled (more like sweated) through the French Quarter over to the Ho Chi Minh complex. It was cool to see it, but since it was Friday, we didn’t enter to see the embalmed body, which was fine with me. Preserved dead people…weird…anyway, it was interesting to see the outside.
The boys then helped us to find Jorge a SIM card for his phone and set it up, which was amazing because we never could have figured it out alone, nothing was in English! They walked us back to our hotel and after giving us several other restaurant recommendations, including street food, they sent us on our way.
I loved the tour and it was so much fun getting to know such lovely locals. I really felt it was the ideal way to see Hanoi and I would absolutely suggest this tour to anyone looking to see Hanoi from a great insider perspective.
After a shower and a nap, we braved the heat again to check out the street food and the night market. Crossing the street in Hanoi (especially without our local guides) was no easy feat. Hundreds of motorcycles, bikers, taxis, tuk tuks, and cars and absolutely no traffic signals. They don’t stop for you, they just go around you. The trick is to go slowly and steadily. We survived it, and we also survived sticky rice and boiled chicken on the street with no stomach issues, hoorary!
We then headed home to get some sleep–we needed to be on our way to Halong Bay at 730 the next morning.
I will do a separate post on Halong Bay next, but I may as well finish out our last day in Hanoi after the tour here.
We decided to visit the Hoa Lo prison (nicknamed “Hanoi Hilton”), which was creepy and weird. I liked seeing it, but it did have a lot of propaganda about the Vietnam War (they call it the US War). They first show how the French used it as a prison in the 1800′s and then it later became used for the Vietnamese to imprison American war pilots. They rave about how wonderfully they treated the pilots, like kings. Now I wasn’t born until after the war, so I guess I can’t really say, but the Americans say they were tortured immensely in the prison, so I guess it’s just weird seeing that live and not really knowing what went down. I made sure to read up on the prison before to get some info, and I am really not sure what I think about it all. In any case, it was eerie and weird but I am glad I saw it.
In the midst of all this we ate some lovely food at La Restaurant and Highway 4, both which were amazing. I am a big fan of Vietnamese food, especially their hot Chili sauce which I need to figure out how to source in Spain. Highway 4 was cool because you had to take your shoes off and sit on the floor.
We plan on getting some of the famous Hanoi coffee before we leave–updates to come on that. Stay tuned for my next post on Halong Bay!