Vietnam Lunar NewYear 2023 G Adventures
We begin in Hanoi four days before Lunar New Years Eve known as Tet in Vietnam. The entire country is preparing by following a long list of traditions. Here are a few that I observed decorations with red for luck and gold for wealth are everywhere. This man might be wondering if he can fit one more lucky decoration on his bike. Kumquat trees symbolize prosperity. The more fruit on the kumquat tree inside your home, the more luck you ll have in the new year.
In the north they buy peach flowers because they bloom in spring symbolizing vitality and a brave heart. Maybe this guy s bike broke down, but his peach tree will be delivered! Buying new clothing in bright colors like red, yellow or blue can bring good luck and prosperity to the wearer. Eating sweet foods will bring luck, happiness and success. There is plenty of success in this market. The first day of Tet is spent with immediate family so definitely bring toys for the kids.
This 11th century temple was dedicated to Tran Vu one of the principal deities in Taoism This temple's name means Place of the Gods. The architecture is a mixture of the many different styles of the imperial era. Offerings to ancestors are important. Here we have bottled water and bananas that represent the Buddha's hand facing up to protect and bring blessings. Here are two photos of a black bronze statue of Tran Vu. It is 13 ft high and weighs almost 8,000 pounds.
Among the offerings are wine and beer to help the ancestors celebrate Tet. I believe this is a pomelo tree which is a relative of the grapefruit and symbolizes security, good health and prosperity. This is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, originally constructed in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De. In 1615, it was relocated to an ilet within West Lake and offers beautiful architecture, historic relics and a serene scenic environment.
Temple of the Jade Mountain is located on Hoan Kiem Lake. This red bridge connects to Thap But Tower. More beautiful architecture and a shop to purchase any offerings you choose. Hopefully this quick primer will help you recognize more Tet traditions as we travel through Vietnam.
Chuc mung nam moi! Now back to the busy streets, organized chaos and seemingly a contest for who can fit the most packages on their bike! Winner-winner chicken dinner. There is your chicken dinner right on the side of the street! Most of the police are there to direct traffic and help pedestrians safely cross the street. Now is time for my cyclo tour starting with the opera house. The Woman s museum features Women in Family, History; Fashion. Here are some of traditional clothing and wedding garments.
The Hoa Lo Prison was originally used by French colonists to detain political prisoners. Later used for American prisoners of war it was dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. Most government buildings are painted various shades of yellow because it symbolizes royalty, luck, pride and prosperity. Yellow also absorbs less heat and is better suited to the humid, tropical weather. The Military History Museum is also home to The Hanoi Flag Tower built during the Nguyen Dynasty in 1812.
At over 100 feet tall, it was used to monitor the surrounding area. This mausoleum is the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh - the first President of North Vietnam. Train street is interesting because all of the shops face an active railway.
Now in the French quarter, streets are wider, buildings are newer, and things cost more. Many homes in Vietnamese cities are taller than their width. Land is expensive, to cope most owners use the first floor for business and the family lives in the back from the second floor up.
Generations of family members live together so it is easier to add another floor than buying another house. This results in tightly packed buildings with few windows and natural light. Our hotel had internal skylight structures that allowed for the feeling of windows and natural light. Our hotel manager Anthony is directing delivery of their Kumquat tree as they add Tet decorations. He greets guests to a delicious breakfast each morning and is very attentive to everyone's needs. Finally, I highly recommend the Hanoi Private Food Tour.
Local college students lead the trips. My guide Lin was awesome, knowledgeable, and so funny. We ate Bun Cha which is grilled pork in stock served with rice vermicelli noodles and tons of herbs and nem cuon be which are fried crab spring rolls.
Next was Bang Seo crispy crepe filled with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts that you wrap in rice paper and top with fresh herbs. Both were amazing. We could have gone to more places, but I was full. Now we leave Hanoi and cross the red river on our four-hour drive to Ha Long Bay Our rest stop is the Hong Ngoc Fine Art gallery that sells embroidered artwork created by people with disabilities (many due to Agent Orange). I purchased two beautiful pieces, and the artists were on site to pose with their art. When we arrived, we took a tender to our Junk Boat.
These vessels traditionally found in Southeast Asia appear to slide across the water. The top deck is for lounging and the cabins are spacious with private bathrooms. Now it was time for lunch in the dining room. The presentation was as beautiful and ornate as everything else in Vietnam.
Next, we take a tender to our kayaks. A chance to see some of the 1,600 islands and islets that comprise this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Breathtaking limestone pillars, rock formations and caves carved by centuries of wind and water. We pair up and board kayaks knowing exactly where to go - or not! Paddling through a small cave the view opens up like a scene from Jurassic Park! We stop for a while to view resident monkeys playing.
As we paddle closer to the limestone walls, we notice barnacles and hordes of other crustaceans living just above the waterline. Our group paddles around exploring a bit more. Then it is back through the cave. This time we notice the massive stalactites clinging to the ceiling. Ti Top island is the most beautiful island in Ha Long Bay This sign is a good warning about the 450 steps it takes to reach the 360ft viewpoint. I made it - looking as pink as my shirt! It is well worth it because the views of the islands, water, junk boats and beaches are amazing.
Sung Sot Cave was allegedly first discovered by the French in 1901, who named it Grotte des Surprises because of its surprising beauty. The first visitors arrived in 1993. From 520-470 million BC, Ha Long Bay was subject to intense tectonic plate movements, along with severe rainfall and flooding which caused the formation of underwater mountains. Millions of years on, the area experienced periods of extreme heat and drought that created the thick limestone formations.
These sea mountains steadily eroded. The advancement of the sea and its effects on the caves can be seen in the ceiling s ripple-like patterns. Here is one last view of Ha Long Bay s amazing beauty.
Now we board the train for our 13-hour ride to Hue. Since there are 16 of us and four bunks per cabin, we split up into 4 cabins. Here are more stores that open onto the active train tracks. Not sure if it is good or bad for business! Here is a look at the night life as we go. Outside the city, most homes seem to be shorter and have space between them. It seems that residential and commercial buildings are intermixed which seems convenient.
Now we pass an ornately embellished cemetery. A view of farmland before entering Hue. Yay, we arrived! Meanwhile, locals load their Tet decorations. At the station, you can literally buy soup to nuts - and a conical hat! Here is the flag tower at the Dai Noi Citadel built in the 19th-century.
Hue was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802 to 1945. We crossed the moat to enter the citadel which is surrounded by thick stone walls. This map shows which buildings are still standing in the Imperial City. Many of the buildings were destroyed during the Vietnam War.
We entered through the Ngo Mon gate that was previously only used by the emperor. It was fun seeing locals posing in traditional dress for the holiday. Here is a scaled model of how the city used to look. Many buildings are still being renovated.
Here is the royal theater that still opens for performances twice a day. I love the ornate tilework throughout the city. The beautiful long galleries on either side of the destroyed Can Chanh Palace have been restored.
We exit through the Hien Nhon Gate. With one more look at the beautifully tiled creatures. We cross the moat again. Next we visited the tomb of the Nguyen Dynasty's ninth emperor Dong Khanh. In 1993 it was recognized as an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. We entered through the feng shui influenced worship area.
Four successive Emperors constructed, restored, and renewed the mausoleum within 35 years from 1888 to 1923. The result is a cross cultural architectural style with a combination of Western European design and traditional Asian construction. We continue up to the burial site.
In the middle of the tomb area is a stele house with a Thanh stone. Dong Khanh s tomb is square surrounded by three walls built of bricks and mortar. The roof is carved with the sun, the four corners are carved with dragons and the word Tho. Our group poses with statues of martial artists, elephants and horses. At seven stories, Thien Mu is one of the tallest, most elegant pagodas and often a symbol of Vietnam. Beyond the pagoda is a gateway.
On the upper floor is an effigy of the pagoda s namesake the Celestial Lady. The temple itself is a humble building with a large bronze laughing Buddha. Behind him are three more statues Buddha of the Past, Historical Buddha, Buddha of the Future. Built more than 400 years ago it has been the site of many political protests. The Thanh Toan Tiled Bridge was built in 1776 and recognized as a national heritage monument in 1990 because of its extremely unique architectural style. The roof is completely covered with lapis lazuli tiles.
Ms. Tran Thi Dao was the wife of a high-ranking mandarin but had no children. To pray for herself, she used her money to build this bridge. At the center is an alter where villagers worship Ms. Tran and all who built the bridge. Prior to this bridge, villagers working in the fields used boats to cross the river which was difficult and time consuming. Now we check into our hotel, check out our rooms and then go upstairs for a buffet lunch with great views of Hue.
We get paired with a driver for our first motorbike ride. Next we stop at Bunker Hill. During the wars in Vietnam, the French and Americans used Vong Canh Hill as a military strategic point and built various bunkers. They are located overlooking a sharp bend in the Perfume River, giving any soldiers stationed here a commanding presence over travel in both directions.
Then we ask about the multitude of younger trees that appear to block the strategic view. Our guide shows us that the trees are planted in rows. One for each Vietnamese life lost in the last war. The multitude of young trees takes on a whole new meaning. Next our drivers take us to visit local artisans. The traditional Vietnamese conical hat non la meaning leaf hat is a perfect circular cone which tapers smoothly from top to bottom.
As you can see, they are labor intensive. Many have colorful decorations inside to personalize and help identifying one's hat. Now I learn how to make incense one down, 9 hundred 99 to go for the day! They make beautiful decorations as well as smelling of cinnamon, sandalwood, pomelo and more. Our tour guide Hoa graciously invited us to enjoy a celebratory Tet dinner at her friend's house. The husband is a barber. They welcomed us into their home to view their alter, learn more about them and then serve all sixteen of us an amazing five-course meal.
Made in their simple but very capable kitchen. We began with a traditional toast of homemade rice liquor. After dinner we presented their grandson with a red money envelope for Tet On the way to our hotel, we saw Tet festivities and regular nightlife. It is finally Lunar New Year s Eve, yay!!! We check into our hotel that is decorated for Tet with a typical alter.
And has a pool! My room is very nice with a balcony where I can watch the local hustle and bustle. Hoi An is an Ancient Town that is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the fusion of local and foreign cultures - principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences - that have combined to produce this unique heritage site. Even the Starbucks blends in with the local architecture. Hoi An is built with flooding in mind. The doors have raised sills to prevent water from entering.
Many vintage buildings have an open square in the middle with a rope to hoist furniture and other valuables during major flooding. We ate lunch in a cute restaurant with lovely street views. Then visited local tailor shops. In the evening, we braved high tide and went to a restaurant that featured fish cooked in banana leaves. Though not native to Vietnam, their Mojitos are spectacular and stuffed with mint and lime.
Now is not time to sleep, we need to celebrate! Next we take a boat ride on the Hoai river to release lanterns carrying our new year's wishes. It seemed that folks from every shop were burning paper effigies. These Joss papers are made to symbolize valuables including money, houses, cars and even cell phones.
Burning the papers is believed to send the offerings to deceased family members. Vietnam is the second largest producer of rice in the world. Most rice grown here is wet-rice, meaning that it is grown in flooded fields rather than dry land. Growing rice is extremely labor-intensive because each young rice plant needs to be transplanted into a prepared paddy. Families help each other with the harvest.
Traditionally, farmers used water buffalo to help tills the rice paddy for seed planting. Hoa discussed invasive species and how difficult it is to make a living growing rice. Most young people are leaving farms for higher paying jobs in the city making the future of rice farming uncertain. The Vietnamese don't have grass lawns. Instead they have rice patties or produce gardens. We took turns watering the crops using traditional methods.
Working in the fields is hot and tiring. Therefore, the Vietnamese take long lunches during the hottest hours using traditional huts like this. We are eating special Tet treats and homemade herbal tea.
On the way to our next stop, we pass homes decorated for Tet. Now we don non la hats and board bamboo basket boats to tour a water coconut plantation. Don't we all look so cute? We end with a riverboat ride back to town.
We had dinner with Hoa's friends who just converted the bottom floor of their house into a new restaurant. Another fabulous 5 course meal with Tet specialties like square sticky rice cakes. The Vietnamese believe that the first day of business after new years will predict the success of the rest of the year.
This new restaurant is off to a prosperous beginning. After checking in to our hotel, some of us got Bahn Mi from a tidy well organized street vendor. I got lunch from the one that was a bit sketchier - the food was delicious! Next, we were paired with a cyclo driver and off to explore the city.
I was so thankful for the ride since it was sunny and 94 degrees. We stopped at the Independence Palace which made its name in global history when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its main gate in 1975 signifying the end of the Vietnam War. We saw the Pittman Apartments where CIA members lived. On April 30th, 1975, the last helicopter flew some of the 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese evacuees to the USS Okinawa. Next we visited the memorial for Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. In June of 1963, he burned himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon.
He was attempting to show that to fight all forms of oppression on equal terms, Buddhism too, needed to have its martyrs. John F. Kennedy said about the photograph of Duc on fire: No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one . Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon was constructed between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists and was closed for renovations. Across the street, Saigon Central Post Office was also built in the 1880s based on the design of French architect Gustave Eiffel. On my final full day in Vietnam, I learned details about the Ho Chi Minh trail and system of tunnels used by the Viet Cong visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels.
It is difficult to explain the full experience and is a must see for tourists. In the evening, Hoa took us to an awesome restaurant where we celebrated my birthday with my final amazing meal in Vietnam. They presented me with a birthday card, a fan and my favorite dish Banh Xeo. Cam on - thank you!! After dinner, some of us braved the night traffic to visit the book fair. After this little girl stopped traffic, I ducked behind a man with a toddler for a safe crossing.
It looks scary but is actually quite safe. A shout out to Hoa who is an amazing person and wonderful tour guide. I couldn't imagine the trip being more special. Cam on and thank you We started as 16 strangers from seven different countries and ended up great friends.
Thank you to all who joined me to celebrate Tet and fall in love with Vietnam! Chuc mung nam moi!