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visit Hanoi-Vietnam


Bustling Hanoi


Chaotic traffic, NOISE, bustle, hodge-podge of narrow streets… that about sums up Hanoi! It’s a stark contrast to the calm, peaceful, quiet countryside of flat rice fields that I passed from the airport into the city. At least I do know quiet exists somewhere outside this crazy urban spraw,  and I’m about ready to go find it…

typical traffic jams in Hanoi

Despite the audio-sensory overload, I’m having great fun exploring Hanoi by bicycle. Everyday I rent an old Chinese-style upright-seat bike and plunge into the chaotic horn-blasting traffic, which I actually find exhilarating. Nobody pays any attention to ‘lanes.’ Few traffic lights exist. Thousands of motorcycles and bicycles plus a few cars and buses veer in all directions. Luckily nobody can go very fast in all the chaos and somehow everyone manages to move along without smacking into each other. Rather astounding!

Vietnamese Temple in Hanoi

The city does have a few famous temples, museums, and the important Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Museum. I’ve visited several. Vietnamese temples are similar their Chinese conterparts but smaller. Disappointingly, they’re not nearly as grand or impressive as temples in Japan and Thailand, but they do possess pretty and unique design elements. I suppose most historic Vietnamese temples and buildings were destroyed during the various invasions of the country, the Vietnam War simply being the most recent.

Street vendor in Hanoi

Very few people speak English. I don’t speak the language, for a change, so getting around, finding food and toilets, asking prices, etc are all interesting incidents in themselves! It dawned on me recently that, strange as it seems, I haven’t had this kind of ‘adventure’ for a long long time! Although I’ve been traveling nearly 5 years, and mostly in SE Asia, I haven’t been in a challenging communications situation for nearly 2 years when I visited Nepal! Since then I’ve either been in English-speaking countries (Australia, USA) or I’ve been chauffeured around by the ‘Survivor’ drivers and security guards( Brazil )  Otherwise, I’ve been in Thailand where I speak the language and am extremely familiar with food, places and customs. I just realized that for the past 2 years my travels have been pretty cushy!

Vietnamese Temple

So, here I am, BLAM, trying to make my way around the chaotic hustle bustle where I generally can’t communicate with anyone! Quite luckily, then, the Vietnamese people are very helpful, honest, friendly and intelligent. They always correct my money mistakes (easy to mix up the various bills like 50,000 instead of 5000) and return the correct change. They’re very clever at figuring out ways to explain prices and ask me questions so that I understand. And though they’re not as instantly friendly and smiley as the Thais when they first gaze upon my pink hair, piercings and short dresses (all women wear pants) they do come around eventually after I smile and say ‘sin chieu’ (hello–one of only 3 phrases I know so far) Likewise, locals who’ve seen me wandering around day after day and eating with local people at little food shops have become quite friendly towards me.

I did find 2 calm spots in Hanoi. First the Botanical Gardens Park. While not as grand and spacious as my favorite Lumpini Park in Bangkok, it’s still a pleasant quiet park centered around a lovely lake and full of large trees. The second is a lllllooooonnnng bridge spanning the Red River. It serves pedestrians and bicycles only = NO NOISE!! (another modern bridge serves motorized vehicles). Cycling out onto that bridge is amazing. Suddenly there’s SILENCE! WOW! Just the wind, some creaking bike pedals and the muddy orange Red River flowing below. Nice escape from the deafening city.

Paddling up the gorgeous Perfume River

Yesterday I also escaped Hanoi by joining a day tour to the “Perfume Pagoda”. A 2-hour van drive took us into the countryside then along an astoundingly beautiful mountain range which consists of hundreds of low sharp spiky mountains flanking verdant rice fields. We eventually stopped at a village, boarded small boats and were paddled up a muddy river for an hour into those same beautiful mountains.

Entry way to the Perfume Pagoda

From the landing point we hiked up, up, up to a big cave filled with Buddhist alters and candles. As our guide explained, the ‘Perfume Pagoda’ is actually a group of 40 temples in the mountains. We visited only the main cave temple and one other. I found the mountainside temple complex quite similar to Japanese mountain temples. Afterward we returned by boat and van back to Hanoi. Beautiful scenery!!

Tomorrow I will take a 10-hour train journey to the NW of Vietnam where many hill-tribe people live in the mountains. Most likely I’ll make a one-week loop of the area, visiting several Vietnamese towns and hill-tribe villages via local buses winding around the high mountain roads.

It’s doubtful I’ll run across internet services in those remote areas, so perhaps my next email will be after my return to Hanoi when, no doubt, I’ll have many more adventures to tell!

until then cheers, LASH
I traveled through Vietnam, north to south for 6 weeks, in Nov-Dec 2003.

Read 5 more tales HERE


Two Wheels & Rice Fields - ebook - positive world travel

Two Wheels & Rice Fields- The Ultimate Guide to Motorbiking Vietnam

My friends and fellow travel bloggers ,  Elise and Anthony Milotic of Positive World Travel, have written this excellent and very thorough guidebook to motorbiking through Vietnam  based on their own motorbike trip through the country.

If you’re planning to visit Vietnam and/or you love motorbike travel, check out their awesome guide to get started.

Read my review of Two Wheels & Rice Fields


Sorry to say I had no digital camera during that trip.

All photos in this article I picked up at Flickr creative commons. Many thanks to the photographers for making their images public:
soulmuser / joergreschke / manhlo / jos devi  / duhangst / upyernoz / Ubo Pakes



6 pings

  1. Suzy

    I can't believe you are brave enough to brave that traffic! Sounds like a miracle everyone doesn't hit everyone else.

  2. LASH

    Hi Suzy,
    Well, cycling in Hanoi was actually quite fun. Shanghai and south Bali are HEAPS more scary! Of course by the time I got to Hanoi I had over 10 years' experience cycling in Asia, including many hectic cities. Asian traffic does seem like a miracle until you get used to it.. and realize that, hey nobody wants to be in an accident, so they all look out for each other. No road rage either! cheers, Lash


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