A week in North Vietnam : Part I - Hanoi

Part I: Hanoi

Words by George Tsangaris

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The first thing people think of when they think of Vietnam is the war with the US. However thanks to Vietnam’s Communist government operating a system of Doi Moi; economic reforms with the intention of creating a socialist-orientated economy, the association with the war is fast changing and Vietnam’s many charms, its culture, hospitality and cuisine, are becoming increasingly recognised. This had led to foreign business operating in Vietnam as well as an ever-growing number of visitors discovering the country. 


I chose to visit Vietnam for a week in April focusing on northern Vietnam. The itinerary began in Hanoi, then onto the Vietnamese-Chinese border in order to reach Sa Pả, by night train. 

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On my first day in Hanoi, my first stop was at the Temple of Literature, built in 1070 by the Emperor, and is home to the Temple of Confucius. Bring one of Hanoi’s top sites, it was a busy day and the area was overflowing with hordes of tourists. More delightful than the tourist however, were the groups of schoolkids who were at the Temple on a school trip. They walked with their arms around the shoulders of the best friends, smiling and laughing and needing no instructions from their teacher, who trusted that they would be well behaved. 

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Though the Temples of Literature and its architecture was wonderful, the focus of my attention were the university students, who, wearing their graduation robes posed for their graduation photo (and by default also posed for the groups of tourists who amassed around them). Counting backwards from three, the new graduates threw up their hats in the air in celebration. It was my favourite moment of the day and like everyone there, I wished them all, all the best on their new adventure ahead. 

Wherever I travel I enjoy observing what people wear. Tourists could be spotted a mile off and you can tell who comes from where by what they wear.  Australians wear flip-flops, shorts and vests no matter the weather and south Europeans seem to wear trendy jeans and sunglasses. However the trendiest person I met was a Vietnamese waiter who wore Louboutin-inspired shoes; sneakers of silver plastic, adorned with silver spikes.  I spotted other people around town; some were dressed formally having their wedding photos taken and Buddhists monks walked through Hanoi’s sites in their traditional clothes. 

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By contrast from the city, in a village outside of Pả, three old ladies wearing traditionally colourful clothes adorned with beads sat weaving and chatting while less than 100 metres away two teenage girls, seated on a motorbike, were wearing jeans and t-shirts and were taking selfies. One of the girls’ t-shirts was a designer copy of two interconnecting Gs surrounded by blue and green stripes. Below that was the face of a cat made of sequins. In one H’Mong village, the men wore leather jackets as they rode their bikes or played pool. One man was dressed completely in red; red trousers and a red vest and wore a gold chain. Others patriotically wore a red t-shirt with the yellow five-pointed star of the Vietnamese flag. And for roughly US$5 you could too. 

  The Military Museum

The Military Museum

After lunch we walked to a park with a large statue of Lenin as teenage boys skateboarded right in front of him. Across the road was the Flag Tower, which was next to the Military Museum. There, the Vietnamese displayed the destroyed American aircrafts and exhibited their own military artillery. We circled the site along with school groups and tourists before walking up a long, leafy avenue called Điện Biên Phủ, passing the Romanian and German embassies and the Foreign Ministry, painted boldly and rather beautifully in yellow. It is located opposite Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. 

  Hanoi Memorial

Hanoi Memorial

In the mornings you have the chance to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body and for certain months of the year it is flown from Vietnam to Russia for maintenance. As it was afternoon we bought tickets for the lush grounds of the Presidential Palace and saw the One Pillar Pagoda and a Buddhist Temple.


Other notable sites in Hanoi include Tran Quoc Pagoda, located by the lake, which was beautiful in the sun’s diminishing light. Not to be missed is the Citadel as well as Hanoi’s many museums. 

I asked to see something off the beaten track so our guide Minh took me to the rail tracks of Long Bien Bridge. It was a rattly old bridge that traversed the Red River. We walked from plank to plank as the Hanoi traffic zoomed below us. By sidestepping through the large metal frame we walked on the footpath opposite as motorbikes sped towards us. Their roar and speed was intimidating and as it was raining heavily we left and made out way to a Taoist Temple, Đền Quán Thánh, meaning Restaurant of the Gods. 

  Long Bien bridge

Long Bien bridge

  Taoist Temple

Taoist Temple

Stay tuned for Part II 

Non-awkward ways to meet people at your next destination

Arguably the biggest anxiety for the first-time traveller is the thought of being lonely – visions of cold evenings curled around a flickering bedside lamp sobbing into a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love as a soundtrack of general debauchery from the downstairs party reverberates through the walls.

It’s a fear born of fallacy: travellers, after all, tend to be a social breed, but to guide you through the often intimidating ice-breaker stage we’ve devised a list of simple ways to cultivate companionship on the road.

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Join a walking tour

Not only is this a great (and often free) way to acquaint yourself with a new city, but the nature of walking tours lend to easy conversation. If the group isn’t too large, a good host will ask everyone to say their name and where they’re from, which gives you an easy ‘in’ for striking up conversation with other participants along the way. Stopping for a group meal or drink also presents a great opportunity to socialise.

Connect online

Over recent years there has been a surge in apps designed to help travellers connect on the road. Chief among them are Tripr and Backpackr, which help you meet people ahead of time who will be travelling to the same destinations. EatWith meanwhile, allows you to attend a dinner party hosted by a local chef, and Sofar Sounds connects you with musicians hosting intimate gigs in informal venues.

Embrace hostels

Hostels are an essential asset for the sociable solo traveller (and not all are bland, soulless boxes!). Close-knit sleeping quarters foster conversation – or, more frequently, arguments over air conditioner settings – while cool communal spaces provide an ideal platform to bond with fellow travellers over a beer. If you’re not staying at a hostel, check larger hostel websites for event schedules – many host tours, dinners, pub crawls and other events available to non-guests.

Rent a room

Whether it’s Couchsurfing or renting a room through Airbnb, stay at a spot where you can engage with your host. Locals who are willing to share their homes are usually gregarious individuals keen to connect with their visitors and offer local insights that enhance the travel experience. How affable your host is likely to be can often be discerned from the advert, as well as reviews from previous guests.

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Take your meal at the bar

Choosing to eat at a restaurant’s bar not only allows you to bypass a potentially awkward ‘table for one’ dining scenario, but it also gives you an opportunity to chat with diners either side of you (who may very well be eating alone), punters ordering drinks or with the bartender; staff often make an extra effort to chat to solo patrons – and there’s always a chance of a complimentary cocktail.

Join a local meet-up

From cooking courses to tango lessons, classes aimed at visitors offer an opportunity to bond with other travellers over a shared interest, or – depending on the obscurity of the activity – how incompetent you are at it. If you’re struggling to find something that appeals, the Meetupcommunity has almost 30 million members in 184 countries, so there’s a good chance there will be an event of interest during your time abroad: whether you’re after photography tips or a philosophical debate.

Just say hello

Travelling is perhaps the only situation in life where almost everyone you meet will be actively looking to make friends. Other solo travellers are detached from friends and family and are likely to be seeking sociability. The human species has survived for 200,000 years because of our ability to communicate with one another. You’re in a foreign place, nobody knows you; go grab a drink from the hostel bar, slide into that empty seat and say hello to the lonely figure staring haplessly at their smartphone. What have you got to lose?

Photography & source lonelyplanet.com

Belgium Getaway

It’s compact, it’s cosmopolitan and it’s well connected with all the major airports of the world. What more could you ask when you are looking for a weekend getaway?! Below you can find are 9 tips on what to see and do in the “capital-country” of Europe.

Brussels. A fascinating city, best known for its diverse array of architectural landmarks and as the administrative capital of the European Union.


The symbol of the city is undoubtedly, the Atomium. This impressive futuristic structure, dates back to 1958 and is located off the centre of Brussels.

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While in Brussels you can’t miss “The Grand Place”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s considered one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Tip: the best time to visit it is Christmas time when a stunning light and sound show takes place every night.

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The small nation is said to be the greatest beer-brewing nation in the world, thus you must try some of the beers. Combine it with the country’s most famous dish, “Moules-frites” which is essentially mussels and fries!

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Hungry for some art? Visit The Oldmasters Museum which is dedicated to European painters from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The Museum of Modern Art can be found in the same building.

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If you always search for some sweet temptations, then you will love this one. Belgium is famous for chocolates and waffles which divide roughly into the “Brussels waffle” and the sweeter “Liege waffle”. So don’t think twice about indulging into a chocolate-covered freshly-made waffle!

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Ghent. A bustling university town with postcard perfect canals, medieval architecture and great cuisine.

The Castle of the Counts is a gorgeous castle with a very turbulent past. The castle includes a museum of torture devices on the top floor and amazing views of the city.

Grab your smartphone for this one. St Michael’s Bridge is the best place for all selfie fanatics and travel photographers alike. This is where you will definitely fall in love with the city if you haven’t already.

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Food and exercise. Ghent has loads and loads of international foodie options while it is also the country’s most vegetarian-friendly city. Moreover, the picturesque city is one of the best places to feel Europe’s cycling culture.

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Don’t just look at the city’s winding canals from above, give into the temptation and enjoy a boat ride. A number of companies offer round trip boat tours, a lovely way to see the city and to view some of its biggest attractions from a different perspective.

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More places & spaces @theislanderstories.

New opening: L’Estrange pop-up concept store in Soho, London

The lifestyle brand L’Estrange Apartment pop-up concept store is here again and you can find it on Berwick Street in Soho.

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L’Estrange presents the new smart-casual which combines functionality and style. Inspired by the unstructured suit jacket and a tailored fit the new pop-up concept store will help you to elevate your wardrobe with reimagined menswear classics.

The designer duo and founders Tom and Will stated “We make clothes to look effortlessly smart for life. Whether it be a coffee, a meeting or drinks - never overdressed, never underdressed.”

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Running only until Christmas, the new concept store offers a unique customer experience in a more friendly and welcoming environment. A beautiful Scandinavian inspired interior will make you feel cosy from the first moment in the store as you can even grab a beer while browsing, provided by Hackney’s Crate Brewery.

One of our favourite pieces that we recommend for you to try: Their premium menswear signature Hoods
(a hoodie with more refined tailoring).

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The Three Rooms Hotel - Old charm in Nicosia, Cyprus

Right in the heart of the old city, between hip coffee shops and trendy pop-up restaurants is exactly where you'd expect to find the newest boutique hotel of the capital of Cyprus.

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The Three Rooms Hotel is a charming old mansion inside the walled city transformed by its three owners into a gorgeous three room hotel. In one of the most popular streets of the city, hidden above one of the city’s few remaining portico, the Three Rooms hotel has already made a big impression as it beautifully combines new and old elements and it was definitely something missing from the capital’s hotel scene.


Here - much like most old mansions of the island - you will be welcomed by a twisted staircase with wooden steps that leads to a large living room covered in a beautiful old tiled-floor. The living room’s balcony looks down at the cosy cafe of the portico while the windows of the covered semi-oval balcony is giving excellent views of busy Onasagorou Street below. Two of the rooms have their own balcony while the other room has a big window literally inside the portico. Each one of the rooms was carefully decorated in an earthy palette respecting the building's original features but without a doubt the most impressive asset of the hotel - apart from the friendly owners - must be the room bathrooms.

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Needless to say, the hotel’s location is ideal as the guests have a myriad of choices for exploring or chilling out, as most of the city’s significant attractions and the best cafes and restaurants are in walking distance.

Apparently, the best hangout this winter will be watching the locals go by while sipping a Cypriot coffee from the top balconies of The Three Rooms Hotel!

The most incredible places in the world

I bet you see Instagram pictures with awe-inspiring pictures all over the globe and you wish you could be there or at least pick a unique destination for your next trip!

Finding such a location can be quite tough so we have come up with a list that can definitely help you out.
No, we won’t mention Paris, London or Rome. We are talking about places out of the ordinary, one of a kind and places that are either unspoiled by the hordes of tourists or stand out in their own right. So here are five of the world’s most unique destinations that will surely feed your curiosity and make you want to travel more!

Chefchaouen, Morocco
While Morocco has always been a favorite of both photographers and movie makers alike - who can forget the classic “Casablanca” after all - nothing beats the city of Chefchaouen in northwest Morocco. Why? Everything here is painted in a thousand different shades of blue, from walls and doors to pavements, making the town dreamy and enchanting! Most popular theory says that the city was painted blue in the 1930s by Jews that took refuge from Hitler. Whatever the case, Morocco’s blue city is quite unique and a marvel to the eye.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Apart from being the birth place of some of the world’s most striking models, Brazil has a lot more to offer. Every year during their rainy season (July-September), a breathtaking transformation takes place in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. After the first rain, the valleys between the rolling sand dunes start to form small lakes. Consequently, the whole area resembles a desert with hundreds and hundreds of turquoise lakes of different sizes, a breathtaking phenomenon that stretches for miles and miles. So don’t worry, you will definitely find one just for you.
 

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
Located just outside of Page, Arizona, right in the heart of Navajo Country, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon where it’s sandstone walls look like petrified waves giving the whole sight a sense of mysticism and natural grandeur. The Canyon comprises of two separate canyons, Lower Antelope and Upper Antelope with the latter being more frequented by visitors due to the dramatic play of light. If you are thinking of taking pictures, keep in mind that the canyon is quite difficult to shoot due to the wide exposure range made by light reflecting off the canyon walls.
 

Socotra Island, Yemen.
This remote island off the coast of Africa is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea, while 37% of its plant species occur nowhere else on the planet. The most fascinating natural plant is the Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari), a mushroom-shaped tree with tangled branches and a canopy of spiky leaves. This distinctive native tree, as well as, other peculiar looking vegetation such as the Socotra desert rose, has rightfully named the island "the most alien-looking place on Earth. The remoteness of the island combined with its unique natural environment make Socotra truly a destination unlike any other.
 

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in southwest Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on Earth, covering an area of 4,000 square miles. Now you’re gonna think why does that make it great…well Bolivia Salt Flats can also serve as the world’s largest mirror! During summer time the area is a huge white flat field but when it rains - during flood season - this flat surface forms an incredible "mirror" that is so massive and so reflective that is even used for calibrating the distance measurement equipment of satellites. Quite an impressive sight!
 

Pictures : Pinterest

Steve Jobs Theater unveiled

Apple did not only reveal the long-awaited iPhone X on the Sept. 12 th event but also
“Steve Jobs Theater”, which is the only place in the tech giant’s new campus that we
didn’t get the chance to have a look in before.The impressive building, a 1000-seat
auditorium right at the heart of the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, California, was
designed by the famous British firm Foster + Partners. While largely underground, a
UFO-lookalike roof rests gently on a transparent 22-foot- tall and 135-foot- diameter glass
cylinder. With a weight of 80.7 tons its roof is actually the largest carbon-fiber roof in the
world, at the moment at least. What’s even more impressive is that the massive glass
panels are the only materials that support the roof; yes there is not a single column in the
structure which makes the jaw-dropping building the largest all-glass- supported structure
in the world.The next reveal is expected to finally be the firm’s $5 billion headquarters
campus, Apple Park.

Pictures : Pinterest