Just the Red River separates China from Vietnam at the Hekou/Lao Cai border crossing, but it’s like two different worlds. The Vietnamese like their Vespas as much as the Chinese and you’d think theirs would be noisier than the super-modern electric versions everyone uses in China.
But the constant purring noise of the Vietnamese Vespas was actually soothing set against the raucous, incessant horn-sounding of the Chinese. Oh, and there’s no rasping of throats being cleared in Vietnam, since nobody seems to feel the need to spit, unlike the folk back over the Red River!
France may have left Vietnam 60 years ago, but vestiges of their presence remain. Architecturally…
And in more subtle ways, not everyone may even notice…
Of course, every now and then you get a reminder that Vietnam is still a Communist state, officially. I can’t help wondering what the Daily Mail would make of this place if it was in the UK.
You need a great sense of balance to make your way in Vietnam
Well, it helps anyway, in lots of ways Vietnamese go about their daily life.
And if you want to run a retail business, who needs a High Street, when you can have your shopfront right on the railway line (though we’re not sure how customers know not to leave when a train is approaching)
My favourite shop by far was this place selling bamboo ladders, bamboo scaffolding poles, bamboo everything you need for household and building trade…
We began in the lovely mountain town of Sapa, built by the French as a convalescence place away from the tropical heat for sick and weary soldiers. Beautiful place still today, though the clouds can come down at a moment’s notice.
It is impossible to avoid the determined street sellers, who stick with you like leeches, in our case walking with us for more than an hour. In the end, we warmed to May who, unbelievably, is 15, and helps out in the afternoons at her local school…
Vietnam’s trains are marvellous, allowing lots of beautiful views, from Hanoi down to Hue
And then from Hue to Hoi An, where the line winds its way along the coast
Twinned with our soon-to-be home town of Kiama, so we had to go there. And it’s a lovely spot. Famous for its lanterns.
And its Japanese covered bridge
And we fell in love with this feathered friend who gave us his full repertoire of tunes, some of which I could even repeat so that we could almost have a conversation. We’d love to have taken him away with us…
Further down the coast, we had our only beachside hotel on this whole journey.
And lived the holiday life for 24 hours
We didn’t much care for Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC), and seriously wondered why there were so many more tourists there than in Hanoi. But, as so often on this trip, the best bits came with our search for coffee and tea, or in this case yarn.
After a long, hot walk along busy streets to find a yarn shop (about which we’ll be blogging soon), we found both the shop and this temple tucked away just off the main drag. All the Vietnamese gems seem to be tucked away, somehow…
And finally, there were lots of water buffaloes and even more oxen around. Water buffaloes never seemed to be visible at good moments for a pic, but this oxen stood for us nicely.
And we can’t finish our Vietnam overview without a brief mention of Nhang and his girlfriend, who joined us for dinner in Saigon, having ridden in 40kms on their motorbike, but then left in such a hurry that we didn’t get a chance to take a photo. Another social media meet-up and one we now have to follow up so we get the photo next time! Great to meet some locals…