Setting foot into the streets of Hanoi from the comfort of our elegant retreat at the Hotel Metropole, we received the first critical lesson from our destination insider: How to walk through the chaotic streets of Hanoi. Amidst the sea of motorcycles descending on the streets, the only way to do it is to become one with the motorcycles; channel your inner rider (did I even have one?). In what seemed like a death defying feet, you must brace yourself, move forward at equal speed to the motorcycles and do not (repeat, DO NOT) look at the incoming vehicles. Looking at the incoming traffic is guaranteed to get you run over!
After getting that survival lesson down, our first stop was a private tour of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. At once a mystical and eerie place, you can get an up-close view of the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, the former Chairman of the Communist Party, in the very place where he read the Declaration of Independence establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnamese still mourn the loss of their leader, and I was impacted by a young man carrying his 100-year old grandmother to pay respects for one last time before her own parting.
A culinary tour of Hanoi street food is a right of passage in our exploration of Vietnamese cuisine. Thanks to our destination insider, “Tu”, who is also well known Vietnamese food blogger, we experienced one perfect bite after the other. This was a colorful experience, where some of the dishes reflect the influences of Vietnam’s french occupation. A most experience was the Egg, Coffee and Beer buns filled with pork and quail egg; and of course the best Pho that has ever grazed our palates at a nondescript, “whole in the wall” gem. An interesting site which would have been fitting for an episode of Andrew Zimmerman, but showed the limits of our adventurous eating, was the dehydrated qual inside the tin cans. And at this point our culinary tour came to a screeching halt!
After an unexpected change of plans we moved onto Halong Bay, which wasn’t in our original plan. Halong Bay is one of these places that you have to experience to fully grasp it’s magnitude and beauty; a trip to Vietnam would not be complete without it. A three hour drive from Hanoi along rice fields and a beautiful country-side landscape, Halong Bay is the true epitome of paradise. Much to our surprise, we had the “junk” entirely to ourselves!
The hospitable crew lead us to floating fishing villages, where it fun to watch the little kids entertaining themselves throwing balls from boat to boat; the pearl harvesters and then the most magical sunset I have witnessed to date. It was imposible to capture the magnitude and scope of that amazing sunset.. it’s one of those views that deserves a moment of silence; where you want time to stand still while you etch the beauty of the moment in your mind forever.