As for me, Vietnam is one of countries in Southeast Asia with exotic landscapes conditioned by its wide climatic differences and shaped by human diversities. To get to Vietnam, we took a bus ride from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to the old capital city of Ho Chi Minh. I was so excited to travel from one country to another and yes, crossing the border between these two countries took us a long 6-7 hours of road trip.
Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh, was the capital of Vietnam during the French colonial times. We arrived safely in the city at around 3 in the afternoon and the streets were packed with motorcycles. I think I saw hundreds of them. Our first day was hectic as we swiftly glide to and fro some of the famous landmarks in the Vietnam such as the Turtle Lake in downtown Ho Chi Minh and Saigon’s Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. On the left side of the Cathedral is the impressive Central Post Office. I love how they blended the Gothic and Renaissance panache on the interior schemes and the external architecture of the buildings. How admirable! At the Central Post Office, we bought different sorts of souvenirs such as figurines, posters, postcards, stamps and other miscellaneous items.
After 10 -15 minutes of walking, we finally made it to the Ho Chi Minh City Hall. From the elegant colonial building is a plaza that stretches toward the business district where the big statue dedicated to Ho Chi Min is located. On one of the alleys in the city, we enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup known as Pho. It has broth, meat, rice noodles called “Banh Pho” and some herbs. Pho is best-served hot in different flavors.
The next day, we flew across the country to visit its present-day capital. Hanoi is located in the northern region of Vietnam. Upon arrival, an old-fashioned vehicle took us for a ride around town. Since we were staying at the Old Quarter of Hanoi, it was easy for us to stroll around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake. With the oriental design of its bridge constructed above its serene water, we relished a brisk walk on the old-fashioned sidewalks nearby. The bridge is connected to a sacred temple in the middle of the lake. I love how it has a great panoramic view of the Old Quarter. The day went by so quickly and the streets became livelier as the night market started. The marketplace offered a great deal of imported merchandises and local varieties of hats, sweaters, coats and other miscellaneous items.
The next day, we went on a two-day tour that brought us across the entire region of the North Vietnam. The first stop was at the old province of Ninh Binh situated in the far most north of Vietnam. It took us approximately 4 hours to reach the destination. The grand entrance to the ancient Hoa Lu Temples and its citadel were truly astounding! I felt like a monarch in a castle as I gazed at the grandeur of the antique royal residence of the Le and Dinh dynasties. After a sightsee around Hoa Lu’s royal grounds, our guide took us to the Ngo Dong River for a relaxing Sampan Boat ride on the Tam Coc river. As we passed through the caves, an old boat lady humbly paddled the boat for us… using her feet. After the fantastic river trip, we ended the tour with a countryside bike ride that gave us the chance to highly appreciate the local life in the province.
Another day of fun-filled experience transpired when we took a ride on a cruise ferry going to the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While we were on a cruise, the fog tried to hide the numerous tiny islets and soaring limestone pillars giving us a mystical view of the modest sea at the Gulf of Tonkin. After Kayaking around the islands, we explored the colorful caves of Thien Cung Grotto. We were also offered great servings of Viet dishes as we admire the Bay of the Descending Dragon.
The trip going back to Hanoi was filled with views of bountiful rice fields with dispersed granite hills, and freshwater river chain gliding through the limestone mountains. We had such beautiful days in this country. From the lavish olive gorges to the ancient sanctuaries and the opportunity to feel like a local even just for a day, our trip to Vietnam was truly unforgettable!