Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vietnam nine years later

So back in Vietnam 9 years with the family (including my dad) after a previous trip. A quick comparison of photos shows some differences: no trekking in the hills in the rain on this trip, but instead visits to indoor and outdoor playgrounds (we actually wanted to visit an indoor water park but it was closed) and purchasing Elsa (from the movie Frozen) clothing at the markets; less visits to bars in the evenings too! My previous visit was longer - about 10 days so I could also see more places (the Demilitarized Zone, Hue, My Son and Sapa for example) than this 6 day trip.

Actually aside from traveling with children this time around (which also means getting less done and moving somewhat slower), the rather crappy weather also affected things - cool and overcast on the boats at Halong Bay and raining in Hoi An disrupted opportunities for going to beaches or swimming - a particular shame for the kids.

In terms of Vietnam: well Hanoi still has insane amounts of motorbikes, but it also has an increasing number of cars (noticeably more than 9 years ago) which makes it much more dangerous; although some roads do seem to be better. The old quarter is still delightful though I don't recall there were so many cafes and hostels there last time. There is still a lot of very local food everywhere on the street (though Andrea was disappointed with the pho, and we tried several). There might be even more clothing markets now that Vietnam has significantly ramped up its manufacturing base (and our hotel this time was right next to a specialist Christmas clothing market). The Thang Long water puppet show has not changed at all (it is interesting reviewing the photos from the previous trip and seeing that it is literally identical in every aspect) and the same grand buildings remain in the French quarter too (though this time with some Christmas decorations reflecting the time of the year).

We didn't go to the Ethnology Museum, but instead went to the Police Museum which was fairly interesting, even with an old motorbike and sidecar the kids were allowed to play in and some kid-size police uniforms they could wear. We also popped by the Vietnamese History museum which really lacked English descriptions of the big picture of what was happening, so the English descriptions of photos of certain people or of certain objects didn't add much value for us.

I don't recall visiting the Hoa Lo Prison last time but it was worth a trip this time: somewhat predictable and not hugely informative, but still. Hannah was a bit scared. A new Vietnamese Women's Museum recently opened too - a nice idea, and fairly well done but only vaguely interesting. I suppose it would be more interesting for those new to Asia who did not know much about women's role in family life or traditional clothing and the like.

Halong Bay is still an incredible place to visit with almost 2,000 limestone peaks jutting out of the sea. It didn't look as incredible as before when it was sunny with clear skies; and it didn't feel as special without viewing the fantastic sunset and sunrise from the top deck of the boat (or indeed sleeping on the boat as it was too cold this time or sunbathing on the boat as the kids preferred drawing), but it is still a real highlight of Asia. Hannah did make it up the 500 odd steps to the viewing platform and enjoyed the large brightly lit cave. She also made friends with some of the others on our tour and both her and Leah enjoyed the rowing boat ride to see the monkeys in the lagoon and making Spring Rolls for dinner on the boat.

Hoi An also remains a real highlight of Asia with several streets of old wooden housing that has not changed much in centuries, as well as some more colorful French buildings in there too. Nowadays almost every building in the old town is a tailor and every building in the rest of the town is a hostel or hotel (several hundred show up online at very cheap prices making it hard to choose!). Not something that kids really enjoy looking at but beautiful for adults. Unfortunately due to major flooding a couple of streets were literally under water and unpassable but otherwise we could see most of what was there. The buildings are very well preserved and there are some delightful cafes and shops.

Apart from spending significant time in the fantastic Dingo's Deli (an Australian restaurant/cafe on the edge of town with great cake and both an indoor and outdoor playroom that are suitable for kids on rainy days) we also did a half-day cooking class. Despite a very wet visit to the market to buy the ingredients it was successful with Hannah helping out a lot, Leah partly watching and partly sleeping, and some good food. Definitely more kid-friendly and suitable for bad weather than hiking or visiting temples!

A good 6-day trip, despite some very average weather, which is cheap to visit from Hong Kong (and with cheap hotels, food and domestic flights, a cheap holiday overall). Certainly recommended for others--even those with kids!


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