Friday, June 2, 2017

Vietnam - Hanoi

The April school holidays were spent exploring Vietnam and Cambodia and it is almost certainly the best holiday I have ever been on.  I find myself thinking about the many experiences we had and the incredible places we visited often.  We travelled with my parents and my brother and his family as a celebration for my Mum's 70th birthday and I admit, I was terrified before we left that it was going to be a nightmare.  I literally had sleepless nights imagining all the potential family dramas but in the end it was absolutely fine.  There is a lot to be said for multi-generational travel actually. 

Our holiday began in Hanoi.  We left the day school finished and I felt so disorganised before we left.  It was the least preparation I had done for any holiday.  I needn't have worried though, the company we used to plan the holiday were fantastic and Vietnam is a fabulous country to explore  with children. The Vietnamese love kids, somewhere whilst on this holiday I read that the Vietnamese adore children as they believe it brings them closer to God, and they really do seem to cherish children.  From the guides we had in each city, to the hotel staff, to people on the street and in shops,  they all adored the children and were happy to chat with them and indulge them.  Vietnam really is a fabulous family holiday destination.

Our first morning we explored the streets near the hotel. A short walk from our hotel was the lovely Hoan Kiem Lake.  We wandered around the lake in the early morning bustle of the city.  As we walked my dad was telling us that the last time he was in Hanoi, which was in the late 1980s, there was still the wing of a B52 bomber poking jauntily out of one of the city lakes, left as a constant reminder to the people of the catastrophic effects of war.  The boys of course delighted in hearing this story.

These photos don't really illustrate the activity that was taking place all around us.  It was very early in the morning as we walked and there were people doing tai chi classes, hawkers selling their wares, shop fronts opening, people on their way to work, joggers and cyclists all around us competing for space along the walkway. Yet, at the same time it was as incredibly peaceful as these photos suggest.

Highlights of our time in Hanoi included exploring the bustling French quarter by cyclo.  We all had our own cyclo driver and I was the last to leave.  My driver was holding the most enormous cane and terracotta pipe and as we pulled out he had a long suck of whatever it was that he was smoking and then he was off, we explored the "36 streets"  of the old quarter, him pedaling my 180cm tall frame around and I was eventually the first back to the hotel.  Love to know what my guy was smoking!

Mostly the drivers went in single file as we pedaled around the streets so it was easy to keep an eye on those kids that were alone with their cyclo driver.  The youngest two both travelled with an adult much to their disgust.  The oldest one, looked like a little Maharajah in his cyclo!  We all loved this method of exploring the city and I would recommend the experience to all.  I was able to sit back and relax and really admire the fabulous old buildings and watch the passing traffic, soaking it all in properly.

Another highlight from Hanoi was our hotel.  Most of the hotels we stay in are amazing but I only ever include details about the hotel if I think that they are truly unique or special.  Our hotel in Hanoi was definitely worthy of a mention.  We stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole and it was stunning.  The hotel is located just moments from the lake which was fantastic for us, Nick was (and still is) training for some up coming cross country races so he was able to jog around the lake safely every morning without us being concerned for his safety.  He is 11 and quite mature though.   It is also walking distance to the old town.  The hotel itself is stunning, with French Colonial architecture and is soaked in history.  Jane Fonda stayed at the hotel during her controversial trip to Vietnam in the 1970s, Graham Greene stayed at the hotel whilst writing The Quiet American.  W. Somerset Maugham was once a guest and wrote The Gentleman in the Parlour at the hotel.  I loved our stay here, both for the fabulous ambience and the history.  I highly recommend it.

Other activities in Hanoi included a visit to Ho Chi Minh's Tomb, it was here that I really felt a sense of Vietnam's Communist ruling party.  The vast Ba Dinh Square where the mausoleum is located and where Ho Chi Minh delivered his Declaration of Independence speech in 1945, really does have echoes of China's Tiananmen Square.

Two of those tiny figures in the distance are Hamish and my nephew.  There is something about wide open spaces and the desire to run for small boys.  The boys also enjoyed observing a changing of the guard ceremony which was done with all the necessary pomp and circumstance.

If in Hanoi I would also recommend a visit to The Temple of Literature, the home of Vietnam's first university.  It is over a 1000 years old and home to the UNESCO heritage listed Stone Seles.  Stone tablets that record exam results from the Le and Mac dynasties (1142 - 1779).  Ha, that might motivate the students of today to study harder knowing that their exam results were to be carved into stone and then added to the UNESCO world heritage list! The boys were nonplussed by these though and much more impressed with what they deemed to be the biggest Taiko drum they had ever seen.  (Nick is in a Taiko drum group at school).  The Temple is a lovely place to visit, it is surrounded by high walls and inside has a peaceful, tranquil feel away from the chaotic streets of Hanoi just outside the boundary walls,

The only museum we visited in Hanoi was the Museum of Ethnology, here my Mum whipped out notebooks and pencils for the boys.  One was very into it, one lukewarm and the other blankly refused.  I loved my Mum's idea of the boys documenting their holiday with drawings and written notes and wish that they had agreed to participate with this but sadly no.  Whenever they did agree to document anything the Vietnamese people around us were fascinated by their drawings.

My last recommendation of things to do and particularly with children is to attend a Vietnamese lacquerware workshop.  We watched with interest as the artists began with a wooden base, then painted or decorated the wood with an inlay of egg shells or mother of pearl.  The boys even got to try their hand at a few of the different stages involved in creating a lacquered work of art.

Hanoi was a wonderful introduction to Vietnam and it is well worth a visit, if only for a visit to the fabulous Sofitel Legend Metropole for a drink at the bar and then a cyclo ride around the old quarter.  I will follow up in the next few days or so with the next leg of our holiday.  The magical and magnificent Halong Bay. 


  1. Love this post Emma - such a fantastic destination for a family, and you've brought all my memories of Hanoi flooding back! We didn't take the children on our last trip (Hoi An only), and I wish we had as it is my favourite Asian city. I imagine it's changed and developed a lot since I was there though. The lacquer workshop looks so interesting - great that it was hands on too. x

  2. Thanks Heidi! Hanoi really is fabulous and I hope that you make it there with your children at some point, I am sure they would also love it. My father could not get over the changes to the city, but it had been over 20 years since he had last been there! Emma x

  3. Oh wow Emma! Looks amazing! What an experience. X



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