As you may know from previous posts, Vietnam was a long-awaited bucket list trip that dates back to when I was 12. My husband and I had planned and cancelled a few times, and finally, we saw another opening, packed and jumped on a plane for a month-long adventure to Vietnam.
We had booked 5 days in Hanoi, and simply put, had no idea what we were going to see or do. My husband, who tends to love researching our trips, found a small tour group, run by University Kids who want to practice English, by taking English Speaking tourists on a tour of Hanoi. It sounded fun, besides, you kinda get to see Vietnam through another generation, which is pretty interesting. My husband found 2 different tours, one with Hanoikids and the other, well lets just not go there, it was not exactly a pleasant experience. Game for anything and ready and armed with lots of questions, we met a young man and woman duo early in the morning in our hotel lobby. It being cooler and rainy in January, it was the perfect day to head out for a tour.
I honestly wish I could remember our tour guides names, unfortunately, my travel notebook got wet and smudged half a page of info, including their names (it was rather upsetting, as I had plans on writing them thank you notes). The 2 were a little surprised that we had our almost 6-year-old with us, but just went with it, and quickly realized, our son loved everything Vietnamese and ended up bonding with him.
Most people probably don’t want a history lesson (not sure why you would visit Hanoi if you didn’t want to learn), and well, we did, we wanted to know about the Vietnamese side of history, not what we learned in our western history books, and about the true love and complete loyalty of the Vietnamese people to Ho Chi Minh.
Our first stop was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, and pay our respects to Ho Chi Minh. In all my years of travel and moving around the world, nothing really prepared me for how beautiful this experience would be. To note, all Vietnamese get in the complex for free, and foreigners have to pay. our son was actually free, as he was under the age of 7. For a westerner, it is a little startling to go into this part and see the guards standing over Ho Chi Minh’s well-preserved body in a glass case. As we have nothing like that in Canada. But once there, you realize the significance of it. Ho Chi Minh himself wanted to be buried in a simple grave, and did not want to be thought of as a saint, or the Father of Vietnam, but the country had other plans for him after death. once approaching the entryway, there are no camera’s, not talking and no hats out of respect. The men guarding, have in fact, the highest of positions and it is their honour and duty to stand guard.
To Note: if you are bringing a child, make sure they are warned and prepared beforehand. We told our son to take his hat off as if he were going into school, and giving a minute of silence like he would on Remembrance Day. He followed the rules, no problem. It was an overwhelming and beautiful thing to be surrounded by Vietnamese, who in fact were bowing down to the altar.
After paying our respects, we went around the whole complex to see the very modest quarters Ho Chi Minh lived in, and learn more about the leader that has become the Father of Vietnam. I have to say, it was this experience that cemented my highest respect and the love for the Vietnamese culture.
We went on by foot to the Temple of Literature and National University, which is a little piece of heaven in a really busy and bustling city. Our young tour guides gave us a lesson, in the architecture, and the history of the grounds, as well as a lesson in Confucianism. Even though it was wet, and slightly gloomy, there was a buzz around the grounds as graduates were taking photographs. The grounds are meticulous, beautiful, and if you are open to it, gives one a sense of peace.
You can’t go on a tour without stopping to have Pho! We were taken to a tiny communal restaurant in the Old Quarters to have just about the best meal EVER. Now don’t be surprised, but yes, you do pick up the tab for your tour guides. They are University students and need nourishment too!
After our noodles (no, I didn’t take a photo, which really is a shame), we headed to have the best coffee in the world. We headed over to Giang Cafe. We had asked for directions to this cafe the day before, and we got lost, as you seem to go through an alley way that is not marked. It is not the easiest place to find. The cafe was full of University students, debating about politics and working on papers. Don’t be surprised by the sunflower seeds, you will see piles of them on the table, and shells on the floor, but the vibe is electric and fun. This is where we were properly introduced to Egg Coffee… If you aren’t a coffee drinker, I get it, but you have to get on board and just try it, yes, pay for your student hosts don’t be daft. It is simply the best darn coffee you will ever drink, nuff said. Our son had a hot chocolate, which he claimed to be the best thing he has ever tasted in his life, and still talks about it.
After having our coffee, and getting to know our lovely guides a bit better. We had to part ways, and get the little man back to the hotel to sleep. This tour, was simply the highlight of Hanoi for us. Our guides were generous with their time, patient with our son, and were so knowledgeable and organized. I highly recommend booking with HanoiKids, you won’t regret it!