Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. With a population of 90 million inhabitants as of 2013, It's largest city is Ho Chi Minh city and it's capital is Hanoi.
I travelled to Vietnam in 2011 for a week with my friends from high school. When we landed in Hanoi we were already off to a frustrating start as we had to wait for almost 30 minutes to get our luggage. Once we got out of the airport and headed towards the city our moods changed rapidly as we caught a glimpse of the local life through the windows of our bus. We saw hawkers in their conical hats around the busy streets along with the several street vendors selling local dishes and goods. My first impression of Vietnam was however the mass of motorbikes swarming the narrow yet busy streets of Hanoi. We were told by our tour guide that whenever we crossed the roads to "keep on going as the motorbikes will work their way around you" We stayed at the May De Ville hotel which was a pretty impressive hotel located right in the heart of the 'Old Quarter' of Hanoi.
The 'Old Quarter' is made up of 36 old streets and guilds and it is well known for its architecture, rich history and diversity of products and the everyday life of its residents. I got to experience the traditional Water Puppet show at a theatre nearby the hotel which was also very fascinating.
Another place that I visited in Hanoi was a special place for many Vietnamese. It was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex which is also considered to be an important place of pilgrimage. Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader who was the prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is highly respected for his sought to free his nation from colonial influence. "He led Vietnamese insurgents against Japanese, French, and American occupying forces, as well as against rival factions of Vietnamese" Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House and the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Visiting this complex will give you a deep insight on Vietnam's history.
From experiencing the hectic streets and understanding the rich history of Vietnam in Hanoi, we made our way to Halong Bay; 170km away from Hanoi. Halong Bay occupies an area of 1,552km2 made up of 3000 islets. There are roughly 1,600 people that live in one of the many floating fishing villages including: Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau, and Vong Vieng. Ha long bay is very beautiful and is considered to be a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are several things to do at Halong bay such as kayaking and diving.
Our trip to Vietnam also consisted of us taking an overnight train (a first for me!) to Sapa which is 380km Northwest of Hanoi. Sapa is a quiet and peaceful town up in the mountains and is home a a great diversity of ethnic minority people such as Hmong, Dao, Giay, and Pho Lu. Most of these ethnic minority people work their land on sloping terraces since the vast majority of land in Sapa in mountainous. The scenery of the mountain ranges in Sapa is majestic especially when there is light fog covering the tips of the mountains (if you know what I mean...) From Sapa's town, we took a trek down to a small village where we stayed with locals. On the trek down the view the mountain ranges was incredible and we got to see animals wondering around such as ducklings and pigs as we passed by farms. Staying in the village was a very rewarding experience as I got to live within their limits and lifestyle for two days. We stayed in wooden houses with limited electricity. I also got to each some local food that I have never had before in my life.
My trip to Vietnam was well worth it as I got to travel around the country and understand the history of the country. I also got to experience a totally different lifestyle and culture.