North Vietnam has much to offer the visitor, Hanoi is a vibrant city with fascinating places in the surrounding area, In Sept 2012 I visited some intersting cities and less well traveled areas in the North
Considering the Vietnam Trip was not planned at all other than my first night in Hanoi; it went better than I would have expected.
The old City is a busy place; the area the hotel is in has plenty of bars and restaurants about. I spent a few days in the company of friend Cameron Birch an Australian who now lives in Hanoi. he took me to a lot of places on the city away from the normal tourist hotspots. Due to the frequent rain we spend a lot of time in coffee houses, restaurants and Bia Hoi bars drinking the local brew which costs $0.25c in many places. The street life here is always interesting as you can see from these photos.
I checked out of thehotel after 3 nights to go to Hoi An to meet fellow photgrapher Etienne Bossost who runs photo tours there. The night train was smooth and fairly comfortable
Hoi An is a bit of a tourist toy town; but attractive none the less. I had good photography around the markets.Etienne took me with a photo group across the river to a fascinating fishing vilage with lots of action with fishermen in boats and coracles and noisy negotiations between fisherman and traders
I left the following day to Hue with Huei from Hue Riders who took me on a great ride from the Marble Mountain temple complex along the corniche road along the coast and over a mountain pass to the city of Hue.
I was able to meet Lan who has been organizing our tours in North Vietnam. She showed me around Hue city and the impressive Citadel covering a huge area in the centre of the city. The weather wasn’t so good; it rained most of the day.
From Hue I took another night train to Ninh Binh where I checked into a hotel the Xuan Hoa; it wasa budget hotel, family run with an incredibly nice owner XuaN ; who offered to take me on a 3 day moto tour to the National Park. I borrowed a bike to to Tam Coc. The scenery around here was indeed fabulous with exotic landscape of near vertical Karst pinnacles; like Krabi but with emerald green rice fields and rivers. I rode around the valley; thinking I should really find a hotel here. I noticed the Hotel Restaurant Chez Loan in and isolated position among the streams and rice fields with the fantastic backdrop of spectacular limestone cliffs jungle clad hills.
I entered the garden to order a lunch and look at the rooms. I met a French lady who showed me around the place and gave me a map and information. She told me she had visited this area many times and has been living here for 8 months. I told her what I was doing and she explained with some excitement that she is an amateur photographer and wants to set up photo tours using a Vietnamese photographer. She could do with some advice on Photoshop too!
Needless to say I was more than happy to stay there in such an idyllic location.
I returned the next day and Martina offered to show me around the valley. This was an opportunity not to be missed. I could also give her photography advice in using her Canon 5D camera. We cycled to the river and up the winding lanes to some of here favourite photo spots.
I followed her into a small Pagoda where we were invited for tea with the wizard like head monk with wispy white Ho Chi Min beard in a magical location. He played music on his one stringed instrument; so the whole atmosphere in the temple was euphoric. The icing on the wedding cake, were a newly married couple who were being photographed in the exotic grounds in white wedding dress and the groom in white suit. The photographer did not mind us shooting there.
I somehow came to the wrong conclusion about Martina as I thought she was the owner of the hotel. She was in fact a retiree from France who loves the place and wants to settle here. It seems that the beaurocracy will not allow her to rent a property; rent or buy a car or even a small canoe for her impromptu bird watching trips. She still wants to run photo tours with the help of her Vietnamese photographer friend. She has many contacts with French photo club as she had been running one for many years.
After lunch and when Martina had finished giving French Lessons to a small group of kids; we walked out to the river for a spectacular river cruise up the valley and under cave tunnels to hidden valleys which looked like an unreal set dreamed up by the director of a Harry Potter or Indiana Jones film.
Back at the hotel I had dinner with a some very interesting travelers; swapping tales and hardly having the time to finish my Saigon Beer.