Day 296 – Chợ Đồng Xuân Market in Hanoi

It’s much cooler in Hanoi compared with Laos and Thailand and the sky has been overcast all day. We decided to just head out for a wander around the local area. We had a couple of tasks for the day, buying a mobile phone to aid us in contacting my aunty who we would meet later in Vietnam, and booking a trip to Halong bay.

We headed to Chợ Đồng Xuân Market, a well known market just down the road, to try and buy a cheap phone. I took some explaining that we wanted a cheap and basic phone just to make calls and not a smartphone. It cost around £5-7 which was reasonable.

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So much stuff to buy but noway to carry it

After securing the phone we just walked around the streets in Hanoi which is great fun as long as you avoid the motorbikes. Every corner, there’s people selling fruit, meals, and clothes. The city is formed of old buildings, and lots of interesting places.

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One of the many women who sell fruit on the street, this lady had a load of smelly durians

We meandered back to Hoan Kiem Lake and went up to one of the many cafes / restaurants overlooking the north of the lake and the crazy roundabout

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View from the cafe looking over Hoan Kiem Lake

After a drink we found a little place to have some Pho for lunch and then booked a day trip to Halong Bay for the next day.

We thought about heading to see the very touristy water puppet show in the evening but I was feeling the effects of the change in temperature from Laos to Vietnam with a little cold.

Instead we wrapped up with what warm clothing we had left and headed out for some noodles and beer. Yum!

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Noodle time

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Day 295 – Heading to Vietnam

Today is the day we head to Vietnam, one of the country’s which we’ve been looking forward to the most on our trip.

We got up relatively early and after breakfast we headed to the airport in a taxi for the flight to Hanoi. We had some really poor sushi at the airport and then jumped on a nice short flight with Laos Airlines. On the short flight they served a quick snack and drink – the trolley only got halfway down the plane before we landed. Fortunately for us, we were sat near the front end of the place so we managed to get served!

We landed in a slightly colder and foggy Hanoi. We had pre-booked a hostel – May De Ville Backpackers Hostel – which was more like a hostel / hotel but reasonable at $6 a night. We arranged a taxi for $18 which saved some hassle.

We had also been really looking forward to Vietnam for some time because people had mentioned how there was lots to do and see. It was cheap (though more expensive than both Thailand and Laos), but most importantly, we were looking forward to visiting the village where my mother grew up.

My mum was born in China but moved south to Vietnam at an early age leaving after the war. All through my childhood, my mother shared her stories from Vietnam and just before our trip, she had been trying to teach us a few Vietnamese phrases to help us get by…we were useless and can only remember how to say “milk” in Vietnamese. But more on my family history in a later blog post.

We’d also heard that Vietnam was a little crazy. It didn’t take long for our first glimpse of the crazyness…

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The dorm we were staying in was nice but a little strange with the bathroom being behind some frosted glass – strange when you were taking a shower or on the toilet. As with most buildings in Hanoi, it was a really thin building with loads of storeys – breakfast being served on the top floor!

With some instructions for a nice restaurant we headed out to explore, first walking down to the lake near to the backpackers area – Hoan Kiem Lake

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After a walk around the local area we found the recommended restaurant which didn’t disappoint. We had chicken curry, stewed pork and pak choi with rice. It tasted so much like my mum’s cooking. Delicious!

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After the food and our first Hanoi beers we walked around the weekend night market before heading to bed.

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Day 294 – The Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane

After little sleep the night before due to the bed bugs we headed over to a nicer hotel at 6:30 in the morning. It was nearer to the river, a little more expensive but it included breakfast and most importantly, had no bed bugs! We were able to check in straight away, after which we nipped out for some breakfast and then went right to bed sleeping till midday.

After catching a few hours of sleep, we were in a better mood, so we headed out in the glorious sunshine to the Patuxai Arc, a war memorial statue located in the city also nicknamed the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane.

Built in the 1950-60s the arch is a memorial to those lost during the battle for independence from the French.

The patuxai arch

The patuxai arch

For just a small fee you are able to climb up the stairs and head to the viewing platforms at the top.

Before heading up there, underneath the arch, there is a painted ceiling which was pretty amazing.

The ceiling of the arch

The ceiling of the arch

Within the arch, there was a sign explaining the history of the arch which included a rather amusing line:

“from a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete”

A little history

A little history

We headed up for a great view of the city and soaked up the sun again.

A pretty good view of Vientiane

A pretty good view of Vientiane

It was our last night in Laos. The next day we would be heading to Vietnam. We knew the food in vietnam would be great, so we picked a western favourite, pizza, for our evening meal. We weren’t disappointed! We had a pizza each from a posh restaurant. Amazing!

Amazing pizza

Amazing pizza

 

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Day 293 – COPE centre in Vientiane

In the morning, we booked into a nicer hostel, well what we thought would be a nicer hostel, but more about that later.

For breakfast, we headed over to the Joma Bakery Cafe. We had been to the posh western cafe in Luang Prabang, and ordered the same flapjack/porridge block thing which has had to pour milk over. It was delicious and you can’t help but feel slightly guilty for really enjoying the western food in a SE Asian country.

The breakfast at the Joma Bakery Cafe

The breakfast at the Joma Bakery Cafe

After breakfast, we headed over to COPE, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. The centre is for people who have lost limbs resulting from unexploded bombs left over from the war in Vietnam.

The centre has a small museum which explains the situation and how Laos beared the brunt of the American bombing with many devices landing in Laos which have remained unexploded since.

Locals have since been looking for the devices so they can sell on the metal for scrap.

Parts of bombs at COPE

Parts of bombs at COPE

As well as being a visitor centre, people from all around the county come for prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation.

The statue at COPE

The statue at COPE

Sign at COPE made from old prosthetic legs and arms

Sign at COPE made from old prosthetic legs and arms

It was a really interesting place to visit and provided some insight into one of the many problems in Laos.

We headed back to the hostel and then onto the night market which pops up alongside the river on most nights.

Tuk Tuk anyone?

Tuk Tuk anyone?

We headed over to a restaurant which had some really good fresh spring rolls and a big bowl of noodles.

Fresh spring rolls

Fresh spring rolls

Big bowl of noodles

Big bowl of noodles

Back at the hostel, we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep but soon after being in bed, I felt a scratch, checking I had been bitten. A couple of minutes later another one, BED BUGS!!!! erghhh. Worst of all John was ok, no bites, nothing. We tried to find the owner to try and move rooms but couldn’t see anyone. It was around 1 in the morning so we wouldn’t have been able to move hostel.

It was a long night and at the crack of dawn, we packed up our stuff and left.

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Day 292 – Vang Vieng to Vientiane

After a boring stay in Vang Vieng due to John being ill, we moved onto the capital of Laos Vientiane – the last leg of our trip in Laos. It took 4 hours to get there and there wasn’t too many option for places to stay. We picked one which was a bit crappy but didn’t really have the energy to continue looking for somewhere better with our backpacks on.

We headed out to get a really nice fruitshake and sandwich.

Super fruitskake

Super fruitshake

A rather nice and huge sandwich

A rather nice and huge sandwich

We walked around the city and tried to look for a new place to stay the next night. We grabbed a really nice meal at night on the street – rice and chicken!

mmmm rice and chicken with some chillies

mmmm rice and chicken with some chillies

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