December 2010 is an exciting time for “paradises.com” as we are now commencing a “live blog” and reporting to you from your favourite Asian destinations. Everything you want to know will now be available on line. Whatever information you require to make your holiday an event to remember, will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year as the “paradisesonline.com” blogger is now at your service.
For my first live blog, I could not be in a more fascinating and exciting holiday destination than Hanoi, Vietnam!
I have only just arrived after a very comfortable flight aboard Vietnam Airlines from Sydney and soon I’m on a $5AUS cyclo tour charging through the narrow crowded streets of the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam. Pedal power comes courtesy of an old Vietnamese man with a leathery face and a heart of an Olympic cyclist, as he pedals frantically, dodging and weaving the incredible madness that represents the traffic in this area. What I am seeing on my cyclo, I would never see in the comfort of a tourist bus. Welcome to “The Old Quarter” Hanoi.
In such a short time I am falling in love with this city and its French Colonial influenced architecture, the people, the noise and the colour. Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and witnessing the buzz of the old quarter, I now can see for myself why this is so.
There are so many historical, cultural and fun attractions in Hanoi. I will now endeavor to list them in no particular order.
*With the assistance of your “paradisesonline.com” hotel staff and myself you can now go on a discovery tour of Hanoi and what you will find is a city full of cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops; selling everything from local and imported clothes, traditional Vietnamese lacquered souvenirs to quaint music stores where you can buy quality guitars for under $50AUS. It’s a shopper’s paradise.
*Do the city tour at your own pace as I have, but I recommend you visit the Mausoleum of the great and legendry leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, who lies in a preserved and embalmed state. Uncle Ho (as Ho Chi Minh is lovingly known as) goes to Russia once a year for maintenance for about two months (around October and November), so pick your time to visit to avoid disappointment.
*The Army Museum is a major Hanoi attraction. It depicts the war history of Vietnam and gives you an insight to the remarkable fighting spirit of this country. For me, seeing the old B52 bomber (US war plane) that was shot down by the Vietnamese into a small lake during the Christmas bombings of Hanoi during the Vietnam War was a highlight. John Lennon wrote his famous song Happy Xmas (war is over) about this incident.
*Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison) is a must see landmark. It was once used by the North Vietnamese army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen. Visually, the way they have set up the exhibition is very moving and gave me an insight into the horrific suffering that was part of this prison’s history.
*On a cultural theme, take in a show at the Hanoi Opera House. It is a small scale replica of the Paris Opera House and is a beautiful legacy the French have left in Hanoi. I would recommend that if you would like to see a performance, just show up and see what’s on.
*Also see the world famous Water Puppet show that is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The music is performed by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra and is a very comical show. The puppets act out stories that have been passed down from generations, with tales of harvesting, fishing and festivals detailing the history of Vietnam.
*The Hoan Kiem Lake is the historical centre of Hanoi. It is steeped in history and tradition and locals congregate there to exercise, socialize and relax. At about 5am each day, locals can be observed practicing Tai chi by the lake. It is a major scenic attraction and is a focal point for the local population. On most days, newlyweds are lining up to have their wedding photos taken there.
*When you visit Hanoi you must have a traditional Vietnamese Massage. It is very different from your standard massage. Your treatment starts with a soak in an old oak barrel filled with medicinal herbs, followed by a spa bath and a professional 90 minute massage. The massage incorporates hot bags filled with herbs that are placed on pressure points on your back. At the end of the treatment you are offered herbal teas and either a chicken or a fish rice soup. When you leave, you feel that the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders. There are separate areas for men and women. Two hours of absolute bliss and the cost is just over $10AUS for the whole treatment!
*The selection of food in Hanoi is delicious and Cha Ca (meaning grilled fish) is a favourite dish. Located in Cha Ca Street, Cha ca La Vong is the famous restaurant that Hanoians as well as visitors from around the world frequent. Pho Noodle Soup is another traditional Vietnamese favourite and the ingredients are white rice noodles combined with beef or chicken sprinkled with aromatic herbs. So simple, perfectly put together ingredients that make this a local fave.
To really get the feel of this city, ensure you buy your Pho Noodle Soup from a local street vendor. It is such a treat when eating in Vietnam to eat meals on a little plastic table and chairs set up on the street with the locals. One tip I can give you is; whenever I buy food from the street vendors, I ensure it is busy so that fresh food is constantly being turned over. It has worked for me as I have never been sick practicing this method.
*What I have noticed in Vietnam is the lack of obesity. I can’t understand why as there is so much food available and the locals always appear to be eating. I am so engrossed with the local cuisine that when I get home I want to continue eating Vietnamese food, so I booked into a cooking school for a one day lesson. It was so enjoyable preparing, cooking and devouring my days work. The menu for our class included a green papaya with dried beef salad, followed by rice noodles with grilled pork and finished off with a black sticky rice sweet dessert that was mouth watering. The cooking school I went to is well known in Hanoi. Each year it takes in up to 500 young people aged between 16 and 25. This includes: orphans, street kids, children of poor families, children of war invalids, ethnic minorities and hearing impaired children and they are trained in the art of cooking, in the hope that they will be one day able to gain a career in hospitality and turn their lives around. I had a great day and this is one activity that I highly recommend.
*”Crappachinos and Rodents Roast!” Coffee beans collected from weasel droppings? S_ _t sounds unbelievable! Well you better believe it. Coffee growers in Vietnam are feeding weasels with coffee beans and collecting the droppings after the beans pass through the animal. The beans are then ground and brewed. The process gives the coffee a musky, smooth flavour. Not only is this a bizarre process, but the coffee is very expensive and is proving very popular in the up market cafes that are fast replacing Vietnams street side coffee and tea stalls. Hang Hanh or Coffee Street is in the Old Quarter and is a favourite for those craving caffeine. “That’s me!”
An excellent café in Hanoi is the Kangaroo Café. It is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake and serves a great range of western and vietnamese food. The cafe is run by an ex pat named Max Hart who has an amazing wealth of knowledge of Vietnam. The cafe is situated at 18 Bao Khanh st. Hanoi.
*health and safety tip… to survive in Vietnam when crossing roads, be sure to cross at a steady pace, do not panic, do not suddenly stop or move backwards, ALWAYS keep moving forward and traffic will magically swerve around you.
For any information on currency, climate, cuisine, shopping or entertainment please leave a comment below….or Email me at…..
*Vietnam Airlines flies from Sydney and Melbourne to HMC/Hanoi
10 times a week
Wishing everyone a wonderful and healthy 2011 and hopefully with the help of paradisesonline.com we can make your holiday an experience to cherish for a lifetime
Photography and words Kelly Tang