Movenpick - great location and reassuringly plush) and started our Vietnam experience with a cyclo tour around the old quarter. It took me a while to realise what was so bizarre about the streets - every street was dedicated to just one product. A street with every store selling mirrors was followed by the curtain rail street, the scrap metal street, the leggings street, the rug street and the plastic chair street. I guess if you live in Hanoi and need a rug, a plastic chair and a curtain rail to decorate your home then its clear where to go... Sitting comfortably in my cyclo I felt quite the "gap yah" tourist but once I'd got used to the traffic (it's hectic but not actually that fast - not usual to see girls wearing dresses and heels, touching up their already perfect make-up amidst the traffic) I settled into snapping the sights and taking selfies.
The next day we visited Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. Not an activity I would have picked if it hadn't been for the tour - even at 10am the queues are long and people from all over Vietnam still come to pay their respects. My pale skin caught the attention of some ladies from the countryside in the queue who discovered that pale skin feels like...well, just like any other skin and then pushed right past us! Afterwards, the cheery yellow presidential palace and temple of literature were lovely even in a rather overcast Hanoi.
The afternoon was free to enjoy the city (Kuoni call this "time at leisure") - Hanoi is known for its cafe culture and (unlike parts of Asia) has amazing coffee. We sat on the balcony of La Place and admired the cathedral which didn't look dissimilar to the one I had to sit through services at during my school days but because we were abroad I duly snapped away. The best coffee in Vietnam is iced with condensed milk but there are also variants with egg yolk (I'm usually a soya cappuccino kinda girl so wasn't tempted by this). We wandered around the lake (popping over the bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple), around the silk stores and into a rather deserted designer shopping centre, taking in the old and the new to the soundtrack of a thousand motorcycles and liberally used horns. For dinner, I convinced my parents to go to Loving Hut which is a vegan restaurant and not a love hotel. They genuinely did love it - great service, amazing food and a lovely setting.
Have you been to Vietnam? Or is it on your to-go list?