Anonymous in Vietnam (Part 1 – the crazy North)

Photo of Sa Pa, Lao Cai, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Flag Tower of Hanoi, Hanoi, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Halong Bay Vietnam, Bãi Cháy, Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Hanoi Old Quarter View Hostel, Hanoi, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Tam Coc Ninh Binh, Ninh Hải, Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam by Neyha Jain
Photo of Tran Quoc Pagoda, Thanh Niên, Yên Phụ, Hanoi, Vietnam by Neyha Jain

A personal blow can ruin your solo holiday plans leaving you sad like ”Ishaan” from Taare Zameen Par (Indian movie). Away, alone and anonymous!! Maybe not then but now I realize, these 3 words are the exact recipe you need to have the trip of a lifetime. I was so lost on my way to Hanoi I was sure that my trip of 12 days will be disastrous. How wrong was I then!

I landed in Vietnam starting at Hanoi and this is how Part 1 of the itinerary turned out:

Old Quarters (OQ) Hanoi – If you need to experience Vietnam in your very 1st hour head to Hanoi. There can’t be a better opening place but their vivacious Old Quarters. This is where the city comes alive - all the hostels, tour agents and bars/restaurants. It is so central that Hoan Kiem lake, Red bridge, local market and other attractions are at a walking distance. The weekly night market sets up at the Old quarters every Saturday. You cannot only find every-possible-thing here but experience local life first hand. Unloading at OQ on our landing in the evening, we did some enquiries for our next trips and headed to the city. Don’t miss the roadside implausible open resto of the legendary Pho (beef ball and noodle soup) and Bia Hoi (beer).

Hanoi to cover –The historic Opera House (it still runs with shows on most days). The night time view is vivid with the Viet traffic, noises and lights. Beside the Opera house you can see the actual Hilton Hotel and opposite it is the Hanoi stock exchange. Walk towards the Hoan Kiem lake from the Opera, on Fri and Sat the whole barrage of Hoan Kiem is closed for vehicles and reconstructed into a public recreation area with artists, talent groups, kids and parents taking part in various activities. We found this super amazing band of 4 youngsters who killed it on the instrumentals! As you approach OQ, head to the pub street Hàng Buồm where you should be lucky to find a place. This street runs long with many bars, pubs and eating places.

More attractions - Next morning it was a Museum marathon. Starting at the Prison museum (aka Hanoi Hilton) to see the replica of atrocities that were borne by the Vietnamese; head to the huge Vietnam Military History Museum. Here you should visit the ruins of war and the grand Hanoi Flag tower. Next will be the Temple of Literature, an old must visit place for some tranquility. It houses the temple dedicated to Confucius and Tao. In another part of Hanoi, there is the sprawling Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum that has the replica of a passed away HCM. This is like a temple for locals and only open until 11AM. Nearby is also another pre-independence museum and the Presidential Palace. While on the city tour there are many other pagodas – Tran Quoc, Ngoc San, One Pillar Pagoda.

Sa Pa Hills – The talk of the town for tourists; Sapa is on everyone’s list for the altitude, rice terraces and local folklore. Located in the north, due to the distance - you may choose to either take the train or the bus. I took the overnight bus that picks you up from your hotel and is comfortable to snooze the night on the road. Sapa is chilly from the hot city weather so you should carry warm-wear for the journey. I picked the single day trip to explore and return over-night. You may choose to stay the night with the local H’mong or other tribes to experience a very beautiful morning amongst the clouds.

Tam Coc and Bai Dinh Temple – We began our guided tour to the Ninh Binh province and headed to Hao Lu ancient capital. Before Hanoi was the capital city, it was Hao Lu from where the Emperors ruled on the country. You will find temples dedicated to the dynasty. This part is also referred to as ‘Ha Long on land’ due to its similarities of karst mountains and expansive scenery. Next, Tam Coc which means 3 caves. In this tour you will be taken in a manual sampaan boat through the river and 3 caves (takes about 2+ hours). The whole experience is placid as you pass through karst mountains and the beauty surrounding it. You will be able to sight the Bai Dinh pagoda in your tour. It is also regarded as an attraction in this province housing one of the biggest pagodas requiring a vehicle to drive through. Tam Coc lets you choose to stay a night to enjoy the sunset in the picturesque backdrop.

Ha Long Bay- Oh! the poster boy of Vietnam. That red boat you see floating in the backdrop of beautiful limestone mountains is “Ha Long bay” meaning the descending dragon bay. This place deserves at least 2 days to do justice to the stunning nature. I was short on time and took the day trip. Include the Cat Ba islands on your 2 day trip to wake up to a gorgeous island morning and enjoy some kayak on the waters. The day trip included our Junk boat ride, visit to Thieng duong caves, kayaking into caves and open waters. We also enjoyed a sumptuous lunch on the boat and spent time clicking the bay views. You can choose to stay at the Halong city as well.

Stay tuned for the second part that will cover my itinerary for the enchanting central Vietnam. Follow my instagram handle for more travel chits – offbeat_wkndragnfly

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