Good morning, and goodbye, Vietnam!

It’s the FINAL post from our epic trip to North Vietnam and I can’t believe it has taken me 16 months to completely document it!!

So enjoy these last few romps around the grimy, colourful and chaotic back streets of Hanoi!

We enjoy a much needed beverage high above the humid, hectic streets.

Then it’s off to check out yet more streets packed full of tourist tat, temple art and traditional water theatre puppets.

Silk dresses and graffiti, no image sums up Hanoi more that this. The dainty and ornate V the gritty, edgy realism.

A mobile seller displays his woven wares on the back of his trusty bicycle.

More floral delights and a seemingly impossible task for these electricians!

A moment of almost calm captured in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

No roaming would be complete without a hopeful wander over to Train Street to see if we can catch sight of the epic train . .

and we are in luck!

We manage to catch it, rumbling along in broad daylight, and you can really get a sense here of just how big, and how close it got!

And that is it folks! The end of another incredible adventure. Vietnam is a country on the up.

I predict it will soon overtake other over travelled places such as Thailand and Bali as the next up and coming ‘exotic’ hot spot.

So catch it while it still retains its natural charm and incredible traditions.

Until next time! Good morning Vietnam – and goodbye!! 😦

Street scenes

How much love can one human being have for markets? The answer – a lot!

Hanoi is just shopping heaven. This stall sells all things plastic and fake – from garlands of garish flowers and vegetables to rows of lucky pigs.

Then we’re heading back to Dong Xuan Market to carry on exploring the mountains of produce, fabric and tat that’s on offer.

On route I spot this very smiley flower seller, who zips along the crowded streets leaving a fragrant trail in his wake.

Dong Xuan Market is the largest in Hanoi and is housed in a four story, soviet style building.

There’s a bustling wet market, huge fabric floor and the ever fascinating dry goods section.

The market tumbles out onto the streets in a riot of colour, smells and shouting stall holders.

There are some many details to capture, you could spend a whole day just in a few square miles.

Piles of fresh vegetables form a colourful feast for the eyes against a backdrop of peeling paint and wet concrete.

Stall holders take a brief break in this tiny corner of the city.

Buyers browse a range of locally grown vegetables that they will pop into boxes, baskets and other receptacles on bikes and mopeds.

From furry rambutan to visceral, gutted fish, everything can be bought right here, literally on the street.

And everywhere are the ubiquitous conical hats, that could be passed off as sterotypical, but really are still an everyday sight.

Spray painted walls are reminiscent of Blade Runner and high rise Tokyo.

While cyclo sellers have baskets of items for sale, zipping past you at speed.

It’s an intoxicating, frustrating, deafening, colourful and exhilarating city.

More Hanoi MORE!

There’s an architectural oddity in Hanoi that doesn’t seem to fit in with the local style – St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Vietnamese: Nhà thờ Lớn Hà Nội, Nhà thờ Chính tòa Thánh Giuse)

It’s a late 19th-century Gothic Revival that serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi to nearly 4 million Catholics in the country.

If you look closely you can see a tiny man up a ladder cleaning!

Below are just some of the incredible stalls on every street. Lots of the streets are themed according to what they are selling.

Below are some of the DIY shops – the Vietnamese equivalent of ScrewFix!

The city has grown organically – but upwards not outwards. That’s due to the cost of land -when the cities started growing, the laws were that you’d only get charged on the length of the front facade of the dwelling.

As a result you’ll see lots of thin, narrow but very high buildings, usually at least three stories tall.

These are called tube houses. Because of high population density you find them in cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

At the front of them you’ll find the whole of life being lived on the streets. Cooking, selling, arguing and chatting.

Whether it’s traditional food being cooked on teeny, tiny little stoves, to live crabs in buckets.

Heaps of fresh greens await a multitude of home cooks, while flower sellers hawk their wares on their rickety old bikes.

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And to finish it off, another of the fantastical, rainbow coloured lanterns.

Plus some cute little cooking moulds and tiny good luck charms.

Marvellous markets

From the serene green of Mai Chau we’re thrust back into the hectic hustle and bustle of Hanoi with its waves of moped riders.

We’re nearing the end of this epic trip but we’ve still got a day left to go explore some more . . .

That can only mean one thing . . . MORE MARKETS!!!! Here we are in the night market in the centre of the old quarter.

I have had my eye on these tasty, colourful, frozen treats all week . . . not too sure how good they are for your innards but they look very pretty with their dry ice plumes . . .

Enjoy a close up of these water coloured, icy beauties!!! 🙂 🙂

And here’s the stall keeper, trying to studiously avoid catching my eye . .

The next morning I am still alive and not frozen solid internally so off we go.

First a little mild stalking of the basket carriers (it’s par the course now, like a daily habit) then off to check in again at train street as we want to see the beast in the day – but alas not the right time! Try again later . . .

A back street alley reveals a slightly rickety hot drinks stand.

And we spy piles of yet more mopeds – I wonder what they call a group of bikes? A rabble, a roar, a cacophony? . . .

Lots more of this vibrant city to come before we hop back on the plane!

Final bike ride

We’re nearing the end of our epic tour of North Vietnam and we’re off to another tiny village and more bone shaker bikes!

We’re in Mai Chau – a collection of villages, farms and huts spread out through a green large valley, home to the white Thai minority.

We’re peddling through yet more epic scenery. Lush green rice paddies stretch as far as the eye can see.

Beautiful, multi storied wooden houses are dotted throughout the verdant fields.

Huge lotus plants and miles of empty road beckon us on.

Naturally, I am less than graceful onboard two wheels . . . .

Of course, the bike fanatic is in seventh heaven and finding it all rather amusing!

This jaunty yellow van doubles as a little plant stall – I am dragged past it!

In one of the small villages we pass through, stalls are groaning under piles of beautiful local handicrafts including traditional headwear and beautiful cloth.

Like huge, patterned butterflies, these skirts look set to flutter away.

And here we watch one of the local women producing some of the wonderful colourful cloth.

It looks like rather hard work! No wonder they are all so slim and healthy.

As the rain rolls in we bid farewell to our last glimpses of rural Vietnam – for the time being at least.

Nowhere I have travelled can hold a candle to the natural beauty of Vietnam’s emerald green countryside.

Hubby looks a little awkward here as his sandals have got soaked in this irrigation channel!!

Back to train street

We keep on gravitating back to this chaotic, crazy little corner of Hanoi.

We are determined to see the flippin train come through if it’s the last thing we do!

So we grab our beverages, plonk ourselves down and wait . . .

While we wait we enjoy some people watching, cafe owners serve customers, families eat on the tracks and life carries on around us.

And then . . . joy of joys, as the dusk closes in, we hear it first . . . an ominous rumble followed by cafe owners hustling us away from the tracks.

And finally!!!! It arrives . . . thundering past at very close quarters! Terrifyingly close!! Apologies for the rather bad language but heck it was a bit hairy!!

More street scenes

We’re off exploring the gritty streets of Hanoi again, and first up we head back to Train Street to see if we have any luck this time!

Enjoying a beverage and hoping to get an up close experience with a train.

We enjoy some iconic sights as we wait, but alas, no train again!

Never mind, there’s still plenty more to explore in this vast, fascinating city.

From ladies in traditional conical hats to mountains of cheap souvenirs.

Whole streets are dedicated to single types of goods including kitchenware and temple decorations.

Here’s one of the most iconic places in Hanoi, the President Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

It is the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh.

The imposing building is located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square.

The square is where Ho, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death, read the Declaration of Independence, essentially establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Hello Hanoi!

Again! Back in the bustling chaos that is Hanoi. Bleary eyed after rolling off the night train at 6am and unable to check into our hotel until 3pm!!!

So we while away a few early morning hours people watching. And Hanoi is very very full of people!

Whether they are wheeling their fresh produce along the street or making a scented spectacle.

Hanoi is a heady mix of modern and deeply traditional. Rich and incredibly poor. Old ways still pervade in a city swathed in pollution from a million mopeds.

We stumble across this group of energetic young dancers practising their routines.

This seems to be a favourite past time for young Vietnamese as you’ll see lots of groups of teens dancing or improvising on the street.

Then finally we can check into our final hotel of the journey, the glorious The Light Hotel.

One of the few hotels in Hanoi that can boast of a (very vertiginous) rooftop pool!

A perfect place to cool down and relax after humid, gritty days sight seeing in the busy city. Up here you could be a million miles away from the grimy chaos below!!

Rocking, rolling, riding

Leaving Hanoi behind again for now we’re heading on another adventure.

This time to a place I’ve wanted to see for over a decade, ever since I came back from South Vietnam, I have been obsessed with the incredible scenery of the rice terraces of Sapa.

So we’re heading further North, aboard the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai.

We planned the trip, once again, through Vega Travel and it all went fairly to plan (except for the poor girl forgetting to pick up the train tickets and having to hightail it back to the office on her moped to grab them!)

We’re bunked up in a cosy little cabin of four people, meaning we’ll be sharing with some total random strangers! But it is quite comfortable.

However don’t expect to sleep much as the train is nosy and clanks and bangs all through the night! (and use the toilet as early as you can as it becomes rather ‘ripe’ later on . . )

The whole journey takes around eight hours and arrives at Lao Cai at 6am!

From there we’re whisked off on a private tour of Bac Ha market, a traditional local hill tribe market and one of the true highlights of our trip.

Here’s a little taster to whet your appetite!

Traversing train street

We’re heading to one of Hanoi’s most unusual and hair raising tourist spots now – train street!

Trains rumble right through this narrow residential street and you can stand and watch.

Well you used to be able to – it has now been closed for health and safety reasons due to the number of selfie seeking tourists – so once again we managed to tick something off our list before it shut!

The train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Tien street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The exact lane the train passes along is called Ngo 224 Le Duan.

Either side of the tracks are tiny cafes and eateries, as well as little houses.

Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter the trains pass through just inches away from buildings and people’s homes.

Colourful artwork adorns the crumbling walls and chairs and tables are perched precariously close to the train tracks.

When the trains are due to pass by the cafe owners move their tables and usher people a safe distance away (however you’re still so close that you could reach out and touch the train – if you wanted to lose an arm . .)

Train street was built in 1902 during French colonial rule.

The train usually passes every day at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm as it makes its way from Hue to Long Bien train station.

The whole neighborhood is only about 500 meters long and there are lots of households that have lived there for many generations.

The trains DO NOT SLOW down and when you actually see one coming, and feel it whipping past your face, it is quite terrifying but also exhilarating!

While waiting for the metal beast to appear you can take your pick from one of the many cafes lining the track.

They serve anything from beer and soft drinks to a peculiar Vietnamese speciality – egg coffee!

We’ll return again later in our trip to actually see a train trundling along the track . . .