Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, is a bright display of blossoms, fruit offerings and red envelopes carrying lucky money. As the chant of “Chuc mung nam moi” rings out around Vietnam this week, wishing friends and family happy New Year, we join Intrepid’s Sarah Moore on her recent Reunification Express adventure…
“Last night I met the eleven travellers I would spend the next 14 days with. A mixture of Kiwis, Aussies and Brits, we are (amongst other professions) a doctor, hairdresser, lawyer, two school teachers, a semi-retired courier driver and a diesel mechanic, ranging in age from eighteen to fifty-six years.
So I’m in Hanoi – a city many friends in New Zealand told me was their favourite in Vietnam. They failed to mention the overwhelming heat. For the first time in my life I felt the sensation of sweat trickling down my back. They also failed to mention how absolutely chaotic the streets of Hanoi are. One of my fellow travellers called it organised chaos – I’m not sure it’s that organised at all. Taxis, cyclos, buses, and so many motorbikes clutter the roads swerving in and out of each other and expertly avoiding pedestrians and unpredictable tourists learning how to cross the roads.
It is against your better judgement not to run, but be warned – running across roads leaves drivers unsure of what you’re doing and you’re likely to cause confusion and frustration. Just do what the guidebooks and any traveller who has been there for more than 24 hours will recommend you do – walk slowly and do not stop!”
We started our day at KOTO restaurant – a Hanoi institution that gathers street children and provides them with rigorous hospitality training for two years – producing some of the most highly sought-after employees. KOTO’s staff all have an amazing grasp on English and are courteous and charming. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed for maintenance so instead we gathered in the unbelievable early morning heat while our lovely guide Huong (Rose) gave us the history of the much-loved leader Uncle Ho. After a visit to his house on stilts and a wander through the grounds of the One Pillar Pagoda, the afternoon was ours to explore the city further. A group of us headed off to find the famed ‘snake village’, but first we found a beer and some air conditioning to regulate.
We met our group again early evening, all of us jumping aboard a cyclo for a relaxing ride through the Old Quarter (so good to feel a cool breeze on my skin and a truly lovely way to explore the city). We were off to the Water Puppets – a unique theatre experience that entertained a packed hall for an hour. The hidden puppeteers manipulate fire-breathing dragons, quirky puppets, fish, swans and other fauna from behind a colourful set, knee deep in water. Afterwards we sat at a roadside cafe and enjoyed beers with the locals at a bia hoi outlet, sitting around a table embellished with a large photo of an innocent looking Britney Spears. All this and it’s only day-two – as Britney would say, “Bring it on!”
Sarah’s blog will continue in Express over coming weeks, so jump on board Intrepid’s Reunification Express and travel with Sarah from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City!