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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Hanoi, Vietnam

Faiz, Hakim, me and Izzat in ancient capital Hoa Lu, Vietnam.
My trip to Vietnam went splendidly well. Overall the journey that I took from 14th to 18th February 2014 opened up my mind on a lot of things. They'd say the more you travel the more open your mind become and they'd also say some people need to travel to find home. I can't disagree with that, although I'm travelling instead to understand the true meaning of life. My destination this time was Hanoi, Vietnam and its worth every experience of it.

What do I really look upon before taking a journey. Is it because of the night life, good food, the attractions of the woman's or to experience the unique culture of a certain place? Life is all about of the above points (minus the women part). I did shared in my previous posting that I'm a historical buff. Every time whenever I plan for a trip, it is mostly due to the historical factor of a particular place that I wanted to see. That factor does contribute to the destination of my own choosing and Hanoi is the most perfect place of all. In this posting, I won't pen down of what I see but more on what I get and learnt from the journey that sum up on the larger perspective of life which I managed to understand or comprehend during the trip that I can also relate to my life.

Teddy in ancient Hoa Lu district
I've already saw the influence of the British in Malaya and the Spanish conquistador imposing Catholic culture to the peoples of the Philippines. Now I have the opportunity for a closer look on the French classy influence to the lifestyle of the Vietnamese and it is pretty obvious. I didn't really plan my trip to Hanoi and it does worries me at the first place as I merely book tickets and was hoping for a rain check on certain places that I should visits. I was betting that the Old Quarters itself was suffice for me to understand and learn about Vietnam. It went perfectly well for this trip when I brought along three of my cousins, Faiz, Izzat and Hakim just to experience the different world from Malaysia altogether. They were really happy about it and so am I.

We at the Lê Đại Hành temple
We at the Lê Đại Hành temple
We stayed at the hotels in the Old Quarters, Hanoi and the city is pretty unique. The ever presence of the French architecture are everywhere to be found as if the French never leave Vietnam. But the ever presence of the Communist beliefs and propaganda gobsmacked right in the middle of the Japanese factory products as we took our cab from the Noi Bai Airport clearly reminds me that Vietnam is a pragmatic country in transition. The country is undergoing a massive reconstruction in providing basic infrastructure to the peoples. Along the highway, you can see that Vietnam is a very ambitious country where everything are built in such a grand design. But the Old Quarters of where we went are very different from any other places I ever saw. The narrow winding street and the almost similar first name of the streets can just confuse you but at the same time makes you feel that you are in someplace different from home or any other in the world. And that is the experience that we're looking for!

We at the Old Quarters, Hanoi

Teddy in front of the old fort still in use by the Army at the Old Quarters, Hanoi
We spend our time walking from one point to another. We were well prepared with maps of the road names and junctions which really comes in handy. I love this experience of walking and finding the roads and direction of where we're heading. You can see the daily life of the Vietnamese peoples with their street foods offered in the street corridors and scooters moving around. It was a busy place jammed packed with peoples. I never see such a scenario before anywhere in the world not even in the overpopulated Manila. The peoples of Vietnam, their French influence architecture with Orient fusion and their daily lifestyle, foods and the ever presence of Vespa and scooters are tremendously simple and elegant for me. I just love it and it hits me perfectly. The Vietnamese womens are very trendy with fashionable jackets and scarves but yet practical in the cold weather. It's the simplicity of the Vietnamese life but yet elegant which reminds me of what life should be and which I would love to copy once I return home.

Teddy with the local womens in Tam Coc
I still remember the refreshing feeling when we first tasted the traditional food at the Old Quarters restaurant. This is what life and good food should be. A unification of a healthy diet and the simplicity of making the dishes. It's a wild, alien and addicted taste from a thousand years of food heritage unique to the culture of the Vietnamese and not an ounce of influence from the Chinese up north really baffles me. Vietnamese are proud of their own heritage and the classy French influence which I saw when we had dinner at the City View terrace coffee shop beside the Hoan Kiem Lake is a testament of how well the Vietnamese embraces the classy lifestyle of the French. I vowed to learn how to prepare a Vietnamese dishes when I return back to Malaysia.
Me on a sampan tour in Tam Coc
Vietnam is like any other Southeast Asian countries, a land full of mysticism. We were told that the main four sacred animals for the Vietnamese are 1) Phoenix, 2) Tortoise, 3) Dragon and 4) Unicorn. They symbolizes good fortune, long life and amalgamations of good life necessity. We visited the ancient city of Hoa Lu, supposed to be the first capital for the Vietnamese peoples. The terrain and landscape in Hoa Lu is out of this world. Full of caves and aqua agrarian related activities in a landlocked territory. The sampan trip that we took was really mesmerizing. You got to be there yourself to experience it. It was really splendid.

Bicycle trip in Tam Coc area

I did enjoy myself here
We also made a short bicycle trip in the interior part of Tam Coc visiting the villages and see the daily life of the peoples from a closer perspectives. We were briefed on the rituals part of the Vietnamese peoples in burying their dead by doing it in two phase. First they would bury the dead just for the bones to be cleared of the flesh and second they would bury the bones someplace else that would be the final resting place. This rituals are unique to the Vietnamese peoples only. The interior part of Tam Coc is like every other Asian village, calm and beautiful. I did enjoy the bicycle trip as I can observe the daily life of the Vietnamese people from close range.

Teddy in Tam Coc
The must visit place or one of the seven wonders of the world - Halong Bay, we were there. We spend one night on a junk and it was really a great experience. The Vietnamese called the Halong Bay as the Dragon in the sea while Tam Coc as the Dragon on a land. There are many caves island in Halong Bay, we spend the time exploring the caves, kayaking and cruising in the area. This is one in a lifetime experience. I got more than I bargain for, I made friends with travelling couples, individuals and groups that were on the Junk with us. I cherish more the conversation that I had with Brian from Sydney on the deck about life that night. It opened up my mind and my life perspectives on what and how our life should be. This is why I love to travel, you met peoples and you interact with them. That is the most precious experience of all. That's the best thing about travelling, you made friends and they share stories and experiences about life with you.

Cruising around Halong Bay in a boat
Kayaking and watching the sun set in Halong Bay

Me at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
The best thing about Hanoi was exploring the old city by walking from one point to another. The garments and cloth linen related products are very cheap at the Old Quarters. You just need to haggle for a good price. The main problem was the language barrier. It's very hard to find Vietnamese that can speak English well. And note to travellers, you can't trust the taxi driver in Hanoi, there I said it. 

We visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum on our last day. It was quite an experience. I saw the body of the legendary former premier laying in a glass box. And he is still very influential to the Vietnamese even after almost 50 years he passed away. Communist beliefs is still very much alive. But what amazed me was when we visited his former residence that was turned into a museum. The man lived a simple life during his time, a necessity out of every action and everythings that he owned. And yes, he loves to read. This is probably the best learning experience that I can get from the trip. Life should be as beautiful, cultured and simple as Ho Chi Minh lives. He loves his country very much and Communism was merely a tools to unite Vietnam, at least that is from my perspective. I can understand the disappointment of the French felt when they lost Vietnam. You can cherish the country by only be at the Ho Chi Minh former residence, it was really beautiful.

We at the Hanoi Flag tower
Overall we spend five days in Vietnam and it has been a worthwhile experience. We saw the water puppet show near the Hoan Kiem Lake and it was splendid. It still amazed me how they can perform such a show without even getting wet from the waist up and the strings were not getting tangled after complex movements of the puppet. Not to mention the fireworks tricks and fire coming from under the water. It was really entertaining indeed. The only thing I regret was for not being able to explore more in Hanoi. We missed the Opera House and the "Hilton Prison" and some of the historical places that I would love to see. But I have no doubt that I will be back in Vietnam. This is a perfect place to visit and I would highly recommend it to all my family and friends.

On the Junk in Halong Bay

Me at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex
We had a nice dinner at the City View terrace cafe overlooking the streets of Hanoi

Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy