I know, I know it’s been over two weeks since I blogged, but if you follow me on twitter and instagram you’ll know I’ve been seeing some extraordinary things in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a mind-blowing trip and it’s taken me a few days just to come down from all the highs. There’s so much to write about, I’m just going to have to share my experiences gradually, chronologically. Bear with me.
So, we arrived in Hanoi after a 14-hour-flight via Bangkok, and straight away every sense was assaulted by noise, smells and lots of things to look at. This was my second time in Vietnam but my first in Hanoi and we couldn’t wait to discover what this city has to offer.
Our hotel, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, has a fascinating history, and during the Vietnam war artists including Joan Baez sheltered in its bomb shelter. It has a wonderful colonial feel – I loved my bedroom…
…but more importantly, it also has a cocktail named after author Graham Greene (which the menu listed as a Green Graham, but we think this was probably a mistake). Apparently Hanoi is where he got the inspiration for The Quiet American when he was a foreign correspondent, and so the Graham Greene cocktail was invented at the hotel in 1951. It rapidly became my favourite and then I got everyone else hooked. It’s basically a Crème de cassis martini served with a sorbet, which you can empty in to the martini or just eat separately. It’s sweet, refreshing and utterly delicious. Also, lethal. I recommend no more than two in one evening *cough*. Even if you’re not staying at the, having a Graham Greene is one of my Hanoi must-dos. Official.
With two full days in Hanoi this was our chance to go out and explore. But the first challenge (and honestly, it was a challenge) was to cross the road and stay alive, because the Vietnamese tend to get around on motorbikes and scooters (as they’re cheaper than cars) and they pay no attention to things like traffic lights or crossings whatsoever.
In the end, after feeling a bit like chickens trying to cross the road, we discovered all you can do is brazen it out – walk swifty (or in our case run, screaming, holding hands) across the roads. The fact that so many Vietnamese people seemed to be openly laughing and pointing at us gave us the sneaking suspicion jay-walking tourists are a national joke.
It was insanely hot, at least 90F, and we quickly got lost in the side streets and then discovered we’d been walking round and round in a big square. Oh how we laughed. This is the Opera House, which we passed several times.
…and inside (well, still outside really) we were delighted to discover it was a bit like street food, with lots of different dishes to try, including fried buns which were absolutely incredible. It was dirt cheap, too, and of course there was time for a Graham Greene before bed.
The next day as part of our Viking River Cruises Magnificent Mekong itinerary we were up early to join the tour to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. This was a slightly bizarre experience. You’re not supposed to laugh or take photos (#mybad) and you queue for quite a long time in the hot sun before trooping in, silently, to go and see Ho Chi Minh. I mean, actually Ho Chi Minh. He’s perfectly preserved, with four guards surrounding his body and two flags – the hammer and sickle and the Vietnamese star – hanging above him. It’s rather creepy, to be honest, and you can’t help wondering why the Vietnamese decided to spend so much money on a ridiculously large memorial when so many people seem to be living hand to mouth.
Particularly when we visited Ho Chi Minh’s former home, and discovered that he rejected the opportunity to live in a palace or big house and chose instead to live in a simple two-room apartment. Go figure. Still, it was utterly fascinating.
That evening we ate at the Press Club before enjoying a few more Graham Greenes. Somehow the next morning we managed to get up for one of our Hanoi highlights: a trip to the street markets in an electric car. It was pouring with rain, but even though it was only 9am the markets were buzzing. If you want to get a real feeling for Hanoi, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Also, a cagoule.
And then it was time to leave Hanoi for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While Hanoi hadn’t captured my heart in quite the same way as Saigon, the memory of all those Graham Greenes will definitely stay with me *sighs wistfully*.