We ended our month in Vietnam with a couple days in Hanoi, and a couple days in the famed Halong Bay.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city by population. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political center of Vietnam, and it served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. From 1954 to 1976, it was the capital of North Vietnam, and it became the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976, after the North’s victory in the Vietnam War.

We found it to be less frantic and more orderly than Saigon, and a charming city.

The Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi was celebrated in 2010, the 1,000th anniversary of the foundation of the capital, which was originally called Thang Long, or Ascending Dragon.

With a length of about 2.5 miles, the Ceramic Road was developed on the occasion of the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi.

Some sights haven’t changed all that much in 1,000 years.

We could only see the outside of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum where his embalmed body is on display. The mausoleum was closed the day we were there; apparently, the line to actually get in is usually about two hours long.

We did, however, see a changing of the guard. It looked to us like there is a taller-than-average-for-Vietnamese height requirement for such guards.

The French built Presidential Palace of Vietnam, which Ho Chi Minh eschewed for…

… a traditional wooden stilt house reminiscent of the hill tribes he had lived with when he returned from China in the 1940s.

Ho Chi Minh’s dining room…

…his working desk….

….and his conference room.

Shauna drug Mark to a Water Puppet show because “when in Rome” and all that…

The puppeteers who manipulated the puppets from behind the screens.

He forgave her after she found these.

We tried Egg Coffee, a specialty of Hanoi, which is traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and strong coffee. The drink is made by beating egg yolks with sugar and coffee, then extracting the coffee into the half of the cup, followed by a similar amount of egg cream which is prepared by heating and beating the yolks. Think of a warm coffee milkshake. YUM!!!

We traveled to a neighborhood only accessed by alleyways (and saw that there is still a need for utility line consolidation)…

….to see where a B52 had crashed during the Vietnam War.

Hoan Kiem Lake is considered the center of Hanoi, not only physically but also symbolically. The tale goes that Le Loi King came across a shining metal bar when he visited his friend. It turned out that his friend caught the bar in one of his attempts for fish. The King asked for the bar, brought it home and moulded it into a sword. All of a sudden, there was two words printed on the sword “Thuan Thien” (harmonious with heaven).
Le Loi then understood that the sword was a gift from heaven. He used it for the battle against the war with a neighboring country. At the beginning of 1428, when peace prevailed, on one of his trip to the Thuy Quan (now Hoan Kiem) Lake, there was a tortoise rising above water and shouting: “Please return the sword to the Dragon King”. Without hesitation, the King threw the sword to the lake. The tortoise took the sword and dove down the water. From then on, Thuy Quan became Hoan Kiem lake.

We made a two-day trip to Halong Bay, famous for the 1,969 karsts that rise of the bay. We were expecting to see something like this (which we took from the air on our way out), but found Halong Bay to be super touristy. So we saw a lot of…..

…this….

…and this….

…..and this….

….and this… 

… and worst of all, this. Knowing what we know now, we would have made the trip to Halong Bay much shorter.

We did enjoy the caves….

….and playing “queen of the world”….

…and Tai Chi lessons on our boat.

We got to meet the troll guarding the mouth of one of the caves, feet dangling.

We found “Tung Dong” and “Phuong Dong”, but couldn’t find “Ding Dong”.

And, finally, we experienced a first – flying from Halong Bay back to Hanoi on a combination float/land plane. We taxied down to the water, took off from the bay and landed back at Hanoi Airport.

Our last pic from Vietnam, showing the verdant green rice fields and other crops which grow so well here.  We had an incredible experience in Vietnam.  From the lush countryside to the sweet people to the amazing cultures, we made memories we will cherish for a lifetime.