Beautiful Lake in the middle of Hanoi

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On our last day in Hanoi, directly after breakfast, we walked to the Old Centre to hire an Electric Car with a driver for a tour around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area. We found the booking stall on Dinh Tien Hoang Street- the tree-lined boulevard right next  to Hoan Kiem Lake. We paid 300,000VND for the car with a driver to take us around the Old Centre and the Lake which lasted about an hour.

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Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”), also known as Hồ Gươm (Sword Lake), is a lake in the historical centre of Hanoi. The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.

Walking around the lake is one of the most popular activities for both locals and tourists in Hanoi, however we chose to hire the car as we were limited with time.  It is also a popular area for running, jogging and exercising. If you have the time, an early morning walk around this lake would be a wonderful way to start your day. Stop for your morning coffee or stay for lunch. It is easy to get around as you are not constantly avoiding thousands of motorbikes.

We were delighted with our driver who spoke enough English to give us an excellent tour of the areas. He stopped many times for photo opportunities and explained many of the symbols, buildings and traditions along the way.

There are many monuments all around the lake that give a sense of history and cultural diversity in this special place. There are also many cafes and restaurants well positioned for a view to the lake.

The Old Quarter is packed with charming colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas. It is Hanoi’s major commercial district. It’s heart and soul is exposed in the ancient commercial streets which are named after their original businesses dating back about 1000 years.

Expect to find plenty of hip café, bars, a variety of restaurants, bakeries, boutique shops and art galleries in this historical area.

There are lots of places to eat and drink. It is so full of life – Wonderful.

“Surprise” – In Ha Long Bay

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The morning of our second day of our cruise on Ha Long Bay, directly after breakfast, while it was still very early, we took the tender boat in to see Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave).

 

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Sung Sot Cave is a large cave of 12.200 square meters. The cave has three compartments and high ceilings with lots of stalactites in various shapes. The ceiling’s maximal height is 30 meters

The mouth of Sung Sot Cave is about 25 meters above the sea level. Next to the entrance to the cave, there is a stone in the shape of a horse and a long sword.

This huge cave is considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It was discovered by a local fisherman.

Our Cruise tour guide was able to educate us on many fun and interesting facts on the cave formations and what they mean to the Vietnamese people.  He joked about the reason it was called “Surprise Cave” as he pointed to a phallic shaped stalagmite formation however the surprise is the nonstop beauty of the cave.

This huge cavern has walking track and steps throughout. There are over 150 steps but don’t let this put you off as they are not steep at all and we were not rushed.  The natural stones have different shapes inside the cave and the tour guide points them out as you go. Some of the most interesting ones for me were; the dragon on the ceiling, the turtle, heart shaped rock and several Buddhas

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Being as we arrived early, there was no line of people waiting,  nor difficulty getting around, however I have heard it can get very crowded. There is colourful lighting throughout the cave which does take away from the natural beauty giving it a “Hollywood” look however lights are necessary to see where you are going and to see the formations.

You really do need a local guide to give you the cultural and historical information to give more depth to the cave rather than it being purely a spectacle.

 

   Once at the top after visiting and walking out of the Cave,  we enjoyed the best views of Ha Long bay.  Breathtaking!!

My Beautiful Hạ Long Bay Cruise

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I will start off by saying that Hạ Long Bay is utterly amazing!  It has picturesque waterways, out of this world scenery and, I loved it.

Hạ Long Bay, in northeast Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rain-forests.

We were picked up early from our hotel in Hanoi and we drove for 4 hours up to Hạ Long City on the bay. After we arrived at the bay we took a tender boat out to our boat “Majestic.”

While motoring up the centre of Hạ Long bay on our Majestic, we were served an amazing seafood lunch which consisted of 7 courses of delicious foods. We soon learned that all meals in Vietnam ended with platters of fresh seasonal fruit.  How very civilised!!  The food was outstanding. There was always so much of it and always beautifully decorated.

After lunch we “checked” in to our cabins which were a lovely surprise as they were nicer than I had expected, with comfortable beds, en-suite bathroom, air conditioner and power points to charge batteries etc. Also, there was WIFI on board.

After this we took our tender boat to Ti Top Island to spend a couple of very pleasant hours. Ti Top Island is regarded as one of the most attractive sites for tourists to Hạ Long Bay.  It is especially famous for its clean water and smooth white sand beach and magnificent views from the top.

 

The bay itself was breathtaking and even though there were many boats around we didn’t feel they were intrusive. It is the most boats I have ever experienced in one area.

On the way back to our boat, several of our group chose to go kayaking in the bay so we dropped them off at the kayaks.  When we arrived back to our boat, it was late afternoon, where we spent time up on the top deck enjoying fresh fruits and cocktails. As evening set in; the boats in the bay turned on their lights and music, turning the bay into a magical fairy-land.

After, our evening interlude on top deck we enjoyed another amazing meal. We were very impressed with the selection of international wines that were available on board considering this was a small boat with only 10 cabins.

There were plenty of activities on board including a cooking class in the dining room.

We started our next morning early up on the top deck doing half an hour of Tai Chi.  We did not know what we were doing but followed the lead as well as we could and loved it – what a fabulous way to start a beautiful day in an exquisite place.

Directly after breakfast, while it was still early, we took our tender boat to Sung Sot Cave. There were many steps up to the cave and then there was the magnificent view of Hạ Long Bay. This deserves its own story.

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View From Sung Sot Cave

Then as we cruised back to Hạ Long city we enjoyed another fantastic lunch on board our home of 2 days.

Our tour guide, Mr Mau was so helpful, gentle and enthusiastic in his job. We really appreciated him as he helped us to have an unforgettable time

Hạ Long Bay was my high-light of Hanoi and one of my high-lights of Vietnam.

 

Beautiful Place – Hiding on a Mountain Top

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Marble Mountain

Marble Mountain in Da Nang is a cluster of five craggy marble outcrops made from limestone and marble and topped with pagodas. Marble Mountain is named after the elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth. There are also a host of Buddhist sanctuaries and places of worship dotted across these mountains

It is just off the China Beach coastal road and easy to get to from Da Nang or Hội An where we were staying

We went there as part of our private tour with our tour guide Andy who gave us lots of good information regarding the mountain and its sights and views. There is a $1 entrance fee to Marble Mountain and an additional $1 cost for entrance to the cave at the foot of the mountains which were included in our entire tour cost.  We took the elevator up from the road, but it doesn’t take you to the top as you might expect so there was still more walking to get to the top from the elevator.

 

We were amazed and pleased to spend a couple of hours in a place that we thought was a mere tourist destination. These five marble outcrops rising strangely from the flat landscape have long attracted different religions like Buddhism which is apparent in the many beautiful Buddha statues and pagodas along the way.

 

It’s quite fantastic. And challenging to climb the steep steps carved out of the rocks, and negotiate our way through some rather scary caves.

 

Some of these climbs are quite risky, and there were a couple that I decided not to tackle. But that was fine as I found beautiful areas to sit, take in the views, admire the magnificent statues and sculptures and take photos of the lovely gardens.

 

The stairs down from the mountain back to the road below were very extreme. I really struggled with their steepness and uneven surface. I took my time, concentrated and held on to anything I could while maneuvering my way down so I made it safely. But, just be careful. It was very scary.

 

It is good to start early when it is not so hot  If you have the time, I suggest allowing a few hours exploring all of Marble Mountain. Also, I recommend wearing good shoes as parts of the climb are tricky and poor footwear could result in injury. Don’t make our mistake of under-estimating the physical difficulty

We found it useful to have a guide who was able to tell us more about the history and help us through some tricky parts.

Our visit to Marble Mountain was a high-light of our trip to Da Nang.   The caves are magnificent and the views are breathtaking!

The City of Lanterns – Hội An

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It was a short flight from Hanoi to Da Nang and then a 45 minutes coach trip to our hotel in Hội An.

Hội An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shop houses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda. This landmark 18th-century wooden bridge features elaborate carvings and  a pedestrian passageway.

After all the hustles and bustles of Hanoi, Hội An provided a totally refreshing and contrasting experience of Vietnam.

Our hotel was only a short tuktuk or taxi ride from the Old Town or about a 15 min walk. This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage old town offers so  much to see.  It is definitely worth paying the small fee to enter specific homes and Assembly Halls, many dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries.

From the first time we crossed the Japanese bridge to go into Ancient Town we loved it.  So much history and it’s absolutely gorgeous!!

Hội An is small enough to walk the streets and explore the many shops selling souvenirs and clothing or have clothes or shoes made in a couple of days. Hội An is the place in Vietnam to have clothes made.  Just take in a piece of clothing that you would like duplicated and it will be made in 48 hours, or, have something designed and made especially for you.

There are plenty of chic little cafes to cool your heels or have an inexpensive local meal. But Hội An by the river in the early evening is a sight to behold, with endless strings of colourful lanterns hanging on both sides of the river, up high along the streets and outside every single restaurant.

Almost all restaurants have tables on the second floor terraces overlooking the river, so try get there early, have a cocktail and take in the uniquely romantic settings of this world heritage city at its best in sunset. It’s almost fairy-tale like at night with all the pretty lanterns hanging in the streets and the candles floating on the water.  Check out the night markets or walk along the river, or do it all. I could easily stay in Hội An for a couple of weeks, to try a different restaurant on the waterfront each evening, to have a daily massage, bike ride and take in the happiness and tranquility of this divine town.

 

Hội An is one of the most beautiful cities in Vietnam and well worth a visit.

We loved Hội An and even though we had 3 nights it wasn’t enough to discover all the areas and things to do.

Unique and fascinating Hanoi

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After an unusually long flight we arrived here in Hanoi, Vietnam

This very fascinating city has so much to see and do. After checking in to our hotel, as always we explored the city.

One of the first things we noticed is,  one must have nerves of steel to drive here.  There does not appear to be any road rules but if there are rules then no one is abiding by them.  There are definitely many more motorcycles than cars and everyone must drive with their hand on their horns. For us,  crossing the road was flirting with death.  As for getting around we  needed to walk on the side of the  road as there was no place to walk on the  sidewalks as they were crowded with parked motorcycles.

The main mode of transport is definitely motorcycles and bicycles. It is incredible what these resourceful people can fit on to a bicycle or motorbike, including a family of 4, ladders, baskets of flowers, fruits, vegetables – even move house.

Hanoi, with its population of 9 million people,  is a very busy exciting city which does not appear to sleep.  The architecture is unique and interesting with a combination of Vietnamese and European styles.

We walked to the end of our road to the lake, Westlake which has a variety of activities around it including large groups of men playing board games. You could tell it was a regular event.

Wandering around the city we saw so many interesting and different sights but nothing could prepare me for their power supply to the businesses and homes. I tried to capture this in my photos.

After a day of navigating the city by foot we became more confident crossing the roads and soon were walking around the local areas less stressed. And, we were able to open our eyes to cross the road.

Once you are outside the main part of Hanoi city there was very little traffic

There is so much to do and enjoy here in this vibrant city. More stories and photos to follow.

Impressive: The Palace of Reason – Palazzo della Ragione, Padova

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Overlooking the Piazza della Frutta is the medieval town hall, Palazzo della Ragione.

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The Palazzo della Ragione separates Piazza delle Erbe from Piazza della Frutta, the piazza which holds the daily fruit and vegetable market.

This massive building was built with one large roof over the entire building, which makes it the biggest roof in Europe that is not supported by columns. It is an Architectural wonder. The Palazzo was built in 1218 and enlarged in 1306. Until 1797 it was used as city council’s assembly hall and palace of justice.

This palazzo is, like the entire city, a symbol of the history, of the power, “Ragione” means reason in Italian, and one can imagine that locals several centuries back used this space to organize their town and settle disputes.

On the ground floor, is the Centro Commerciale Il Sotto Salone which has been in operation for nearly eight hundred years, and is the oldest commercial centre still in operation. Here you will find many various shops, including delis and artisan shops, where you can find many of the local specialties. You can buy fresh hand-made pasta, fresh fish from the fish market, a selection of specialty cheeses, selection of home-made sausages, high quality meats, a good selection of Prosciutto, and specialty meats from an equine butcher, coffee from a coffee market plus more.  Today there are more than fifty small shops, offering quality food products, wine bars, bars and gift shops.

The upper floor, called Il Salone is a vast hall, one of the largest medieval halls of the world. The frescoes decorating this grand hall can overwhelm you. The ticket office provides a description of the decorations to guide the visit, but it is the overall massive scale of the space that leaves a lasting impression

This is one of the many squares in Padova but this one is stunning. The architecture is incredible and well worth doing some research before visiting to understand its history.

There are plenty of cafes around to sit and admire the architecture and the markets and once again to watch the world go by.

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Coffee and a cornetto here was very nice

Experience the Local Foods at Piazza della Frutta, Padova

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After spending time in Piazza dei Signori, I wandered in to the next Piazza, the Piazza della Frutta – another one of the numerous piazzas of the historic centre of Padova.

This is where the fruit and vegetable market stalls are that sell great quality produce. These markets are held on most days with the meat and fish markets close by as well. It is just such a lovely setting for a fruit market, with the central palazzo overlooking the square. Here you will find fruit that tastes like fruit.

There are plenty of shops, cafés and bars overlooking onto the piazza. After wandering around the markets, it is wonderful to sit in one of the bars, enjoy a coffee, people watch and soak up the atmosphere. This is where I was able to use the free WIFI and email photos to friends and family back home.

 

This beautiful and lively square is in front of the impossing Palazzo della Ragione and behind City Hall

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No visitor to Padova should miss this venue. It is beautiful. There is colour, beauty, vibrancy and above all, a tremendous feeling of history.  It seems to be the beating heart of a magnificent old city.

Padova is a walled city situated along the Bachiglione River between Verona and Venice. It is around 40km from Venice and also a popular stop on the way to Verona, Milan or Florence. I travelled by train from Lucca with a night stop-over in Ferrara before arriving in Padova

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