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A Tale of Two Cities: Hanoi vs Saigon
Asia Specialist Holly takes a look at two of Vietnam’s most significant cities, Hanoi and Saigon…
Even for the most seasoned traveler, arriving in hectic Hanoi can be something of a culture shock! Friends had told me about this amazing city, famous for its 4 million motor bikes, so I was semi-prepared, but you have to see it to believe it! This is not London, or any western city – this is Vietnam, where normal rules go out of the window! Whole families pile on motorbikes: babies sat on laps, crates of food are tied on, bags of rice stacked, even livestock… even a buffalo!
Arriving in the dark we were tired and keen to reach our hotel and grab some food. We were recommended an amazing restaurant in the old quarter, which was one of the best meals I have had anywhere in the world! The next day the chaotic beauty of Hanoi revealed itself. THE best way to wake up from the jetlag is with a delicious Vietnamese coffee.
Former communist and revolutionary leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, is hugely celebrated and idolised in Hanoi. The mausoleum which houses his preserved body is well worth a visit, and we took a tour around the house where the former leader lived and ended his years. A short walk from the mausoleum is the lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda – resting on a single stone pillar emerging from the water. Hanoi was a fantastic place to try local cuisine and pick up some bargains in the buzzing markets. Make sure you take a motorbike tuk tuk around the city to get in amongst the chaos!
From Hanoi to Saigon, another crazy Vietnamese city that needs to be seen to be believed! The energy, vibrancy and buzz of Saigon is instantly addictive – you want to go where people are heading, see what people are looking at, eat what locals are eating, and generally become part of the chaos. It’s a city that only gets better at night, so we headed straight out to one of the famous Vietnamese ‘fast food joints', Pho 24. I promise it is nothing like McDonalds! Pho is Vietnamese noodle soup is the country’s most famous food. If you have been to Saigon and stayed near the famous Ben Thanh Market it’s likely you may have eaten at this famous low cost noodle restaurant, complete with pictures of Bill Clinton on the walls! Despite the low price and strange décor, I really believe the food can’t be beaten!
Across the country, evidence of the Vietnam War is never far away. This is especially true in Saigon, which was heavily affected during the conflict. Siagon is even known as Ho Chi Minh City after the famed former leader. While I was there I knew that I had to find out more and had to visit some memorials; it would be wrong to visit Saigon without taking in some of its turbulent history. I recommend a visit to the War Remnants Museum, which documents the conflict and gives accounts from Vietnamese people. Despite such heavy losses and damage to the country, the Vietnamese people remain remarkably upbeat, without the bitterness you may expect after such a bloody conflict. It is truly inspiring.
Next up was a particular highlight of the whole trip – a Mekong Delta tour. For me, when I think of Vietnam, I think of the mighty and almost mythical Mekong River, and it doesn’t disappoint. There is something magical about being alongside the Mekong: the history, the size, the length, the way life is built on and created around it.
Our tour started with a private boat journey down the river while our guide told us about the history of the River and its huge significance. We then got off at Turtle Island and took a walk through the fruit orchards and tried some delicious fruits – most of which I had never even heard of. From there we boarded some smaller rowing boats and were paddled up the Mekong – which was amazing! This was followed by unch – a scrumptious feast of fish from the Mekong. No sooner had we arrived and it was time to leave Saigon, and indeed this incredible country. It really is as good as everyone says it is – the only down side was leaving…