As I wrote in a recent blog post about Cambodia, it has become rather apparent to me that my travel experiences have been somewhat limited. As the New Year approached I, like so many others, decided I needed a change. I visited a local travel agent, explained that I wanted to visit Asia during the summer and was completely open to recommendations. Though India and China were, and remain, top of my list, the climate during the summer deterred me. I decided on Vietnam there and then and, in order to push myself further outside my comfort zone, I added Cambodia and Thailand to my agenda.
My understanding of Vietnam was limited to its tragic history; its role as the “pearl” of the French Empire, the implications of Nazi Germany’s occupation of France on the colony and the horror of the Vietnam War. Oh, and a few titbits from my manicurist who cursed me out last year for going to Singapore without stopping in her country! Whilst this is all thoroughly interesting stuff, it can be pretty depressing and, moreover, I wanted to know more than I was taught, more than I had read – I wanted my own Vietnam experience.
I spent my first two days in Hanoi, dodging motor bikes and trying to maintain some control over my hair in the intense heat and humidity. I celebrated my birthday with a busy day of excursions including trips to the colossal Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a Buddhist temple, the calming Temple of Literature (blog post to follow) and discovering the delights of local ice cold beer and ferocious red chillies. This was the start of a wonderful three-week break in a beautiful part of the world. Here is my photo diary.