From sleepy Laos to hectic Hanoi – something of a culture shock! Friends had told me about this amazing city, famous for its 4 million motor bikes so I was semi prepared, but you have to see it to believe it!
The cultural differences between Laos and Hanoi are instantly clear. The sounds, the smell, the traffic, the people… even the modern airport – and I admit to feeling reluctant about entering somewhere so modern and chaotic after tranquil Luang Prabang.
But this is not London, or a western city – this is Vietnam, where normal rules go out of the window! The traffic is terrifying at first glance. Beeping your horn and cutting up other cars is considered completely normal , and crossing a road which is full to the brim of motorbikes is a unique experience! The best advice I was given was ‘dont look left or right, just go’. Whole families pile on motorbikes; babies sat on laps, crates of food are tied on, bags of rice stacked, even livestock…even a buffalo!
Arriving in the dark we were tired and keen to reach our hotel and grab some food. French cuisine is of course famous in once French colonised Vietnam. We were recommended an amazing restaurant in the old quarter, which was one of the best meals of my entire trip!
The next day the chaotic beauty of Hanoi revealed itself.
Former communist and revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh is hugely celebrated and idolised in Hanoi . The mausoleum which houses his preserved body is well worth a visit, and we took a tour around the house where the former leader lived and ended his years.
A short walk from the mausoleum is the lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda – resting on a single stone pillar emerging from the water.
I love combining a city stop in my holidays, so 2 days in Hanoi was perfect! It’s a fantastic place to try local cuisine and pick up some bargains in the buzzing markets. Make sure you take a motorbike tuk tuk around the city – THE best way to discover weird and wonderful things such as shops that sell the local delicacy: beating cobra hearts; and tiny child-like plastic chairs scattered around that local people sit on and put the world to rights over Vietnamese coffee.
A world away from busy Hanoi is quirky and laid back Hoi An – a real favourite of most people who visit Vietnam.
Once a prosperous trading port, this World Heritage-listed town has beautifully preserved ancient buildings, pedestrianized streets and delicious cuisine, giving you an amazing glimpse back in time. Be sure to visit:
- The old merchant’s house
- The 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge
- And the colourful and vibrant markets with stalls brimming with local specialties. You can try one of the famous cooking schools which show you how to prepare and make the local food.
Hoi An comes alive even more at night time – and is great fun! Local places to eat serve up a range of scrumptious food, and make sure you sit along the river at one of the bars and enjoy a Hanoi beer and soak up the unique atmosphere.
We stayed at The Nam Hai just outside of Hoi An – which is an experience I will never forget….simply paradise! After a hectic but amazing few days in Hanoi and Hoi an, an infinity pool overlooking a private beach was just what we wanted! This was certainly turning out to be a diverse trip…..
‘Vietnam from North to South: Part 2’ to follow – stay tuned!!
Written by Holly Brightwell | Asia specialist
Travelling from north to south in Vietnam is a great way to see this culturally rich country. We can tailor-make an itinerary to include Hanoi and Hoi An – just call us +44 (0) 20 3111 9757 or email us. And take a look at our ‘Classic Vietnam’ itinerary, for a little inspiration!