Hanoi/Halong Bay/Hue all in 5 days!
We began our trek through Vietnam in Hanoi, a big city in north vietnam. We were awe struck by the sheer number of folks on motorbikes (scooters!) and the traffic at first site. Majority of folks seem to drive these and the traffic is ever moving. I don't recall seeing any stop lights and the rules of crossing the street are as follows, don't run, don't turn back, and don't stop! You get the hang of it after a few tries! The best things to see in Hanoi are the beautiful red bridge, the pagodas, and the Ho Chi Min museum. We did visit a few other stops but they were not as interesting. The street culture in Hanoi is quite unique to what we have seen thus far, particularly in the old quarter where you can see tons of folks sitting on plastic stools cramped together drinking local beers. (25 cents a pint!). Also the street food offers a plethora of options, freshly fried cheese sticks, bahn mi ( a baguette with different fillings), fruits, nuts, sticky rice, etc. Food is also extremely cheap here so we have done plenty of eating along the way!
Our next stop was to Halong bay- a Unesco site that is absolutely stunning. We stayed on a junk boat(not sure why it's called that) that camped out in the middle of the waters overnight, well positioned under the stars! We visited a beautiful huge cave and a vista point after climbing 400 odd steps to reach the top. Both were totally worth the excursion and added to the already stunning views from the roof of our boat. We enjoyed tons of seafood cooked in traditional Vietnamese style, tastiness!
The next journey was one that I worried a bit about, an overnight train to Hue. I think the last and only other time I was on an overnight train was when I was 15 , from Paris to Madrid. My personal fear was hygiene on the train but I prepared by hydrating well in advance of hopping on board. It ended up working out just fine, a mini adventure of sorts, but a bit too noisy and shaky to sleep very well on. Upon arrival in Hue, we were ready to depart the train and see what central Vietnam was all about! Hue is a small town relative to Hanoi, with only a population of about 500k and therefore had a much slower pace. We decided to take an adventure tour of Hue while waiting for our check in time at our hotel- we hopped on motorbikes (scooters!) with a guide each and coasted through the country side. It was the funniest experience and my guide who spoke a handful of English could tell that I was terrified at first. It ended up being the coolest way to experience Vietnam, given motorbikes are the main form of transport here. We visited a beautiful pagoda, an elephant temple where these animals were once worshipped, a rice paddy field, a tiny agriculture museum where we learned how the harvest the crop, etc. Interestingly, vietnam will surpass thailand as the number one exporter of rice this year.
The next day we visited the citadel, the forbidden city, and the imperial palace. They were all beautiful but the heat was almost unbearable. There is a ton of renovation scheduled for these sites as they were badly damaged during the Vietnam war. Hue was a beautiful little city but we were ready for some r and r at our next stop- hoi an.