Vietnam & Cambodia Pt. 1 – Sydney to Hanoi

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

So, after many weeks of saving, and counting down Ali & I began our 3-week trip through Vietnam and Cambodia - with a 5 hour stopover (3am-9am) in Kuala Lumpur.
First sunrise I have seen in a while! Though I did get time to double-triple check how well my camera bag was packed before our 9am flight.
Last plane for now..
Now, I won't say I don't recommend red-eye flights, but I do recommend preparing to be on one - that means earplugs, eye-shade, neck pillow, and being as tired as possible when you board. It's okay though, we made it to Hanoi, and had enough sense left to make it to our hotel safely (just). After a quick freshen up, we hit the streets.
Armed with this map and an unreliable phone GPS, we set out to see anything and everything that would make us just stop and look, and savour the moment. Which was just about everything – did I mention I'm a sucker for the culture shock?

Once we hit the streets, it was clear just what we'd got ourselves into. Sheer chaos, with people walking, riding and driving in every direction whilst tooting horns at each other and avoiding us and other tourists. 
 Street traders carry around fresh produce on their bikes, in baskets or by trolley to supply the city's food vendors, restaurants and coffee shops. We are practically invisible to them, though we may as well have a flashing bulb above our heads for anyone selling sweet treats, sunglasses, clothing and more as we wander the streets.
Outside the market, a group of guys kick their feathered hacky-sack-style toy, somehow clearing a space between trucks, scooters and crowds. Elderly shop owners (out of frame left) sit and watch while they wait for sales.
A scooter rider stops for his moment of peace, as the city bustles on behind him.
Families own the shops and businesses you see here, and live in a private space behind the shopfront – land is expensive, so people will build up rather than out.
A family works roadside, to prepare meat to sell to local businesses.
Later that day, now feeling more confident in exploring the city we walked to a nearby bar / restaurant area that our Hotel staff had marked on the map. Here we had a few drinks and people watched away. It was pretty quiet when we arrived.

Our first experience with the people of Hanoi, and Vietnam in general is that the people are positive in their outlook, always social and friendly, and optimistic in their everyday life. Their bartenders are very persuasive and generous in their service, too - so be careful!

After a slightly longer than planned evening and one too many drinks, we got a semi-decent rest and managed not to miss breakfast the next morning.

Stop #1, the Ancient Citadel of Than Long.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long's gardens are lined with Bonsai plants that have been crafted over decades by the invisible hands (read: bonsai wizards) that maintain this site.
Some plants stand 6ft tall in elegant pots, growing vibrantly in the humid climate. Note the US military relics in the background, part of the Hanoi military and war museum. 
Doan Gate - an internal gate in the citadel which originally provided another line of defence to the Imperial Palace and Ladies Palace (home of concubines). Visible through the arches is one of several French buildings constructed after the French occupation of Vietnam during the 19th Century. 

We had then begun our rollercoaster journey of learning the People's history of Vietnam (and Cambodia), which turned out to be inspiring, yet hard to bear.
 After an afternoon of comfortable air conditioning, we met the G Adventures group and our CEO Zoom Zoom (His name is closer to Dzung when pronounced in English). We had dinner with the group, learned about the tour and how things would be run. Little did we know how much fun the remainder of the trip with these people would be! 

For the next two days we travelled to Ha Long Bay, contained in a boat with these people, and fed amazing Vietnamese cuisine by the staff on board. Part 2 of this series is Ha Long Bay, you can read about it soon.

On day 4, we returned to Hanoi and had some hours left to explore some more. Ali & I set out with our new Icelandic friends, Eggert (Eggi) & Steinunn to see everything we could – and with a pre-marked map we were able to Zoom over to the best Egg Coffee in town.
And if you're ever in Hanoi - just go down the alley - #39 Nguyen Huu Huan (Cafe Giang)
'Egg coffee' is a sweetened drink served hot or cold, which uses a frothed egg yolk and condensed milk mixed with a typical Vietnamese coffee. This recipe by Jodi Ettenberg for says that Cafe Giang work up their own secret blend each day, including cheese! This is very interesting, seeing as cheese is a rare delicacy in Vietnam.
Ali & I had Egg with Chocolate, while our Icelandic friends had coffee. Also available on the menu was Egg with Beer (??)

A little street photography, some Banh Mi for our travels and we were off to board an overnight train to Hue! (pronounced "Whehh")
Part 2 of our journey takes us to Ha Long Bay - read all about it HERE

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