Whoa....... talk about a place that made all the senses stand up and take notice. I'm not sure which part amazed me most...the street chaos, the 'motobike' men (continually whispering 'you like motobike' like they were trying to seduce you, each time you passed a corner) they were the cheapest mode of transport for us, and the most fun..... or the in your face street vendor ladies trying to sell you banana's/pinapples/apples/dragonfruit, mango's etc..you get the picture, they were definitely a highlight. I warmed to the Hanoi way of life where everyone lived their lives on the streets. There was no hiding behind closed doors or fences, it was there on show for all to admire. Everything just spilled out on the road, shop produce, home dining rooms, washing, meal times with family, kids play, Bia Hoi... a 4 O'clock (pm) must for all, to stop and have a Bia Hoi (draft beer) whilst balancing on a very little seat at the side of road, with very close traffic passing by. It was quite my style of organised Chaos.
But Chaos led to some much needed quiet space as we headed Sth of Hanoi to Cuc Phuong National Park on a 2 day tour. It was a taste of what was to come.
We made our way to Nth Vietnam, Sapa, via what they call the west loop. Anna, Myself, a guide (Ang) and driver (Ha) all headed off early one morning for a 4 day journey with long hours of driving each day through small ethnic minority villages and small towns. It was the best introduction to the real, virtually untouched vietnam. Signs of war and western touches were occasional....like the small TV satelites on village homes, which looked rather wierd.
Sapa was built under French influence, their alpine town for a sojourn away from the heat. It is definitely beautiful and if you could look past the ethnic minorities in the streets you could almost imagine you were in the swiss alps....not that I've been there, but I've seen 'The Sound of Music'.
The second part of our Handspan west loop tour was the trek through the ethnic minorities of Sapa. Sapa is one of the most northern towns of vietnam almost bordering China. Since having an amazing experience doing the Karen tribes in Thailand I have always wanted to do some more treks that take you in close and personal with the ethnic villages way of life. We set off from Sapa town self with our very funny guide Hai making our way along the road before embarking on a steep decent into the villages rice fields, and then it only got better from there. We had 2 overnight stays in families homes where we feasted, and I mean feasted on amazing home cooked meals that Hai, was mostly involved in. It was here that I fell in love with fresh Tofu, I couldn't get enough, and it was fortunate I ate well of it up north as in the south it is more to Oz Tofu standards. They cook up a tomato based sauce and then add the fresh tofu, so easy, but it's the freshness of the tofu that does it for me. But enough on food..... the trek was amazing, we had chats with the local women (via Hai of course), joked with the kids, gasped in awe of great sights, and was amazed by how many Roosters roamed the land. It was so rich in colour and culture that I can't wait to do it again some day. P.S. by the way Hai is single and looking for a worthy wife, he's a great cook and very funny, Anna & I would highly recommend him for anyone keen to live in Vietnam.
The bay that's been dubbed the best bay in the world. It definitely wasn't for the cleanliness, unfortunately they have a bit of work to do on this part..... but the limerock formations and sighting the local fishermen and sea dwelling village well make up for it. We were lucky to only have 5 of us onboard a 16 bed boat, so lots of room for quiet time and relaxation.
So many hignlights to tell of this place. Of course to me the first one would be food, I had by far the best Pho (beef noodle soup for breakfast), lemon drink, green papaya salad, rice paper rolls...and on and on it goes. For cuisine you just can't go wrong from the smaller stalls to your more well known restaurants bragging parisian connections.
We spent our 6 days, relaxing, swimming at Cua Dai beach (best beach by far in vietnam), having many items of clothing made, shoes made (yes more shoes for me), hanging with the locals, learning more vietnamese, cycling about, boating with humerous local women, and managed to fit in one cooking course that sent me into a spin of vietnamese cooking since my return. The only thing I didn't like, was leaving, but I can say that for all the places visited really.
Too many goodies to limit it to one section.....
We had a great 3 days of Resort relaxation to ease us into the last few days of our travels... by this time we were glad to do basically nothing except laze around at the pool, beach and our new found friends cafe The Sand Dollar. It was by this time sinking in that we would soon be going home.....
The last 4 days of our trip were spent in Saigon. Here we tried to fill all our vietnamese needs that we didn't get done along the way...gifts, some personal shopping in the city boutiques, some more motobike action around town, our first cyclo ride, some noodle soup in the markets, hitting the night markets, and having a very nice dining experience out to mark the close of a great holiday.