After a fairly short flight from Vientiane in Laos we arrived in Vietnam in the late afternoon of 17th January. I had been quite apprehensive about immigration procedures between SE Asian countries, but in reality the immigration officers at Noi Bai Airport, Hanoi barely looked at our passports before stamping them in and seemed generally quite bored with the whole process. We got the public bus from the airport into the city which was easy and cheap, then shouldered our backpacks for the 20 minute walk into the Old City and arrived at our Airbnb at about 6pm. Our digs were located right in the centre of the old quarter and looked to be on ‘pots and pans’ street, as every other shop had pavement displays of huge metal bowls, utensils and catering sized steel urns for cooking and heating water. The street was noisy, busy and chaotic and we worried we’d struggle to sleep, but luckily found that our apartment was located 2 floors up with good sound insulation!
The weather in Hanoi was pretty grey, drizzly from time to time and quite cold! It was a bit of a shock as we’d grown used to sunshine every day; we actually had to dig out our raincoats for the first time since North India!
Our Airbnb host, Phuong, suggested we go to the night market only a few hundred metres away. In Vietnam at the moment everything is being set up for the 2020 Tet Nguyen (New Year) celebrations, so the streets were full of lights flowers and street performers. Next year will be the “Year of the Mouse” so there were many mouse motifs, gold and red models and in one case real live mice for sale.
The following morning we were up bright and early to meet with our tour guide Giang (pronounced Zan) for our tour around the Old City. Giang was a very sweet university student who was able to give us lots of information about the old city and Vietnam in general. She also helped with purchase of a new SIM for the phone which was really helpful.
On our last evening we walked around Ho Hoan Kiem lake and looked around the temple in the centre before visiting the famous Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre.
We only had 3 nights in Hanoi and it went very quickly. On 20th January we got up quite early and shouldered our back packs once again to walk down to the minibus pickup point and catch the shuttle back to Hanoi airport. For the next part of our Vietnam journey, we opted for the 1 hour flight to the city of Da Nang and the nearby old town of Hoi An as this would save us a train journey of around 13 hours down the coast. Taking yet another flight is causing us some pangs of conscience in these days of global warming, but it’s a fact that the flight option can be so much easier, quicker and cheaper than booking a sleeper train or bus. However, after a couple of days exploring Hoi An we will then take a night train further south down the coast of Vietnam to the tourist city of Nha Trang. The Tet Nguyen celebrations kick off in earnest while we are there so we plan to hang around in the city for a few days and enjoy the festivities. Beyond Nha Trang we couldn’t get a train further south because they were all booked, presumably by people returning to work after the holiday. On 28th January we will catch a daytime bus from Nha Trang down to Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by most of the locals). It’s a 10 1/2 hour journey so we will definitely need some good audiobooks and a few yummy snacks and drinks that day!