Home for Hanoi’s destitute: The reality of Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien Bridge, celebrated in Vietnam as a symbol of military resilience, is now a haven for the poor

By Jame Durston (CNN TRAVEL)

Drug users, orphaned children and destitute families.

The reality of life under Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge today is a world away from its image as a symbol of Vietnamese military ingenuity and resilience. The 107-year-old bridge is celebrated as one of Vietnam’s greatest ‘triumphs’ against Western imperialism, and has even inspired songwriters and poets. Guidebooks describe how the Vietnamese managed to keep the bridge open and functioning — a key supply route from the port of Haiphong into Hanoi during the Vietnam War — despite the assault by U.S. bombers. But as I discover during a film shoot for CNNGo TV, looking at this bridge through history’s glorifying lens is to take a one-dimensional view.

long bien bridge coal worker
At one point I clamber up a riverbank made entirely of trash and emerge through a pungent cloud of smoke onto a hill of coal. A soot-smeared woman is hacking up chunks of coal with a mallet; nearby a huge pile of black sludge sends out a horrific stench.   sludge at long bien bridgeDecrepit corrugated tin huts acting as homes are crammed together on one side, like a mini shanty town. This, I now know, is the modern Long Bien Bridge, a home for some of Hanoi’s most disadvantaged people.   home under long bien bridge
Heroin users are known to congregate on Bai Giua (middle island) under the bridge at dusk to indulge their habit. Orphaned children have turned to Bai Giua for shelter, and the poorest of Hanoi’s families, some of whom are forced to live on the river in floating huts, also can be seen around the bridge, pushed to the edge of the city by its burgeoning economic bubble.   paintshop long bien bridge
It is an aspect of modern life in Hanoi that jars with the bridge’s appearance — all girders and bolts and rivets — of might and solidity.   long bien bridge Like a wizened grandfather who can’t stop telling tales of his war-time endeavors, the bridge’s scarred and patched-up appearance seems to say, “Been there, done it, survived it.”   hanoi's long bien bridge
No doubt the events that surrounded this bridge during the 1960s and 1970s were tremendous, and it serves an important purpose as a living memorial to the people that were involved. But for the folk living there now it is simply a makeshift home they have been forced to occupy as the rest of Hanoi moves on.

 Getting there

The bridge is not open to car traffic, so hire a scooter taxi to drive you across the bridge, or take a taxi to Dike Road, near Gam Cau Street, where you’ll find the approach ramp.

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SAPA – VIETNAM

By Sammy (http://www.tothedayslikethis.com/)

In 2012 I visited Sapa in Vietnam and instantly fell in love. Sapa is a special place, nestled high in the mountains near the border of China, where the air is fresh and the views are breathtaking.


After spending time in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Sapa was the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle. We did two days of trekking and were able to visit local villages along the way. Getting a glimpse into life in Sapa and the nearby villages was an eye opener. It was quite cold up in the mountains and many children did not have shoes or jackets and running hot water was non existent for many families. I felt very fortunate that night to go back to my hotel and have a warm shower – something that I take for granted everyday.


The people we met in Sapa were beautiful. They were gentle, kind and genuinely interested in what life was like for us in Australia. One of my favourite things about traveling is the interesting people you meet along the way. They stick in your mind and give you the warm and fuzzy feelings when you think back.



As a part of the tour we visited a local meat market. What an experience. I won’t post photos, but let’s just say as soon as I got home I hugged my dog very tightly. Again, an eye opener.




I would love to visit Sapa again. I even weirdly enjoyed the 10 hour overnight train trip there – it’s all part of the experience.

Have you ever visited Sapa? What did you think?

( Source: http://www.tothedayslikethis.com/2013/11/sapa-vietnam.html)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Our trip to the amazing mountainous Sapa

By Pernille Rasmussen-Lykke Amonsen-Astrid Andersen-Camilla Christiansen, Physiotherapy volunteers, Denmark

We started our trip to Sapa on Friday the 10th May 2013, which we had really been looking forward to. Our expectations were high, as many people had told us what a wonderful place Sapa is and that it was one of the “must see” attractions of Vietnam. After having finished our respective projects on the day, we were all slightly tired but also excited about our forthcoming adventure. Our train departed Tran Quy Cap station at 09:50 PM and should be at our destination around 7 AM the next morning. We settled in quite nicely into our tiny train compartment which had 4 bunk beds with a small table between, where we spent the next hour watching episodes of Friends before we went to bed so we could be all fresh and awake for the next day. The A/C was going on full throttle, so we were all very happy that we had been provided with warm blankets, otherwise we would have awoken with a massive cold. After a slightly restless night, the train conductor woke us at 6 AM by shouting “morning” all through the train. Naturally we assumed this meant that we had arrived safely at Sapa, so we pulled back the curtains to see the spectacular nature. What we saw was not exactly pristine nature, and it did not even look like we were remotely close to any train station. Afterwards we were told that a landslide had happened further up along the tracks, so we were barred from proceeding on to Sapa and they were unable to say when we could start off again. After all it only took 3 hours waiting in a desolate place in Northern Vietnam, and then we were off again. Luckily, we had bought sandwiches which became our breakfast that morning. In the end, our train arrived six hours late at Lao Cai train station around noon time, and we were absolutely starving. But we got there!

We followed the immense crowd of tourist to the arrival plaza where we had to find our guide who would take us to the hotel. We found him pretty swiftly, however we had to wait for yet another hour for the bus which were scheduled to pick us up. The bus was filled to the brim and the last few unfortunate passengers had to vacate plastic chairs which had intermediately been placed in the bus. We were the only foreigners and the rest were local Vietnamese. The bus ride took roughly and hours time, and here we got a preview of the breathtaking nature around Sapa with the green mountain tops and stunning rice paddies. Arriving at Sapa City, we immediately noticed the clean, fresh air which was a stark contrast from the usual grey and polluted Hanoi air. It was reinvigorating to take a big gasp of fresh air, without having a major cough afterwards. The temperature was also considerable cooler than Hanoi, which suited us quite well.

The city of Sapa is placed on a mountainside with a view over a valley covered in rice paddies, forestland and small villages. When we arrived at our hotel, we got the chance to enjoy this spectacular view from our hotel balcony, before we went out for a well-deserved lunch. Thereafter we started out on a hiking tour with our English speaking guide to “The Cat Village”, which is the tribe that is most closely situated to Sapa.

When we were approximately 200 meters away from our hotel, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by tiny, local villagers all clad in the same colorful clothing (which were to show that they all belonged to the same tribe). Unfortunately their questions were as one-sided as their clothing, as each of them asked the same four questions to us time and time again. So after 6 kilometers of hiking, we were pretty bored about answering how old we were, where we came from, how many siblings we had and most importantly: whether we fancied  in buying some of their dodgy souvenirs. However they were all extremely nice, and some of them even followed us all the way in the hope that we would finally succumb and buy some of their junk in order to get rid of them. Our hike brought us through several different villages which had dozens of small shops with homemade clothes, bags and jewellery which were all made in a cacophony of colors resembling their tribal clothing. All through the hike we enjoyed the most amazing views of mountains, rice paddies on the mountainsides and all the way down in the valley we heard and saw the thunder of a stunning waterfall. The hike down to the village was quite steep and we were suddenly well aware of what a strenuous hike it would be to climb back up to Sapa again. While we were walking along, we suddenly realized that a massive buffalo came stampeding down the narrow track that we were occupying. Fortunately it did not direct at any of us, but it did not take a long time before its partner-in-crime chose to take the same run down the track, and our guide did his utmost to distract it with shouts and flapping his arms, in order for it not to run towards any of us. It is safe to say that we were all somewhat shocked by this turn of events, but luckily no one was hurt. Later on we learned that some small boys had been taunting the buffalos further up the road which had caused them to run amok.

In the evening we ate dinner at the hotel. The food was okay but nothing special. Thereafter we chose to relax in our hotel rooms and got a long night of sleep.

We checked out of the hotel at 9 AM as we had scheduled to hike for the whole day together with our guide. The trip went to Lao Chai, where we would eat lunch and then we would return to Sapa. This is equal to about 17 kilometers walking on mountain tracks. We were accompanied (once again) by the tiny tribal ladies that were very keen to sell us their souvenirs once again. However they were extremely friendly in helping us and supporting us on the slopes, which had turned into treacherous patches of tracks due to the heavy rain the previous night. We realized that these ladies were from a different tribe, as their clothing was quite different. It was also surprising to ask about who they were. Even though they all looked to be over 60 years of age, the oldest of them stated that she was 35 years old. The weather was benign all through the Sunday and the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. This also resulted in some badly burned arms and shoulders, as our skins are not really used to the Vietnamese sun.

We took a lot of pictures of the spectacular scenery that surrounded Sappa. It is rather difficult describing how breathtaking the nature is in this part of Vietnam and the pictures we took does not justify this at all, as they can of course not capture the silence and the sounds from the nature.

When we arrived back at the hotel we had a few hours to eat and shower before we were picked up in a minivan and driven to the train. We embarked the train around 08.30 PM and our compartment was even smaller than the one we had had on the way to Sapa and the beds were smaller and different. Thus our train trip ended up being somewhat less comfortable than on the way up and we were rather tired when we met up at work after we arrived safely back in Hanoi.

(Source http://www.mytripblog.org/tag/sapa)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Cyclo city tour in Hanoi Old Quarter

Cyclo is one of the unique transportations to discover every corner of Hanoi Old Quarter. If you have chance to visit the city of peace, Hanoi, in one day, it is highly recommended to take a cyclo tour for traveling around the Hanoi 36 Streets.
Different from countless cyclos in Ho Chi Minh City, ones in Hanoi seems to have the unique features that capture my heart right at the first time I was on cyclo tour around Hanoi Old Quarter. Let’s imagine that on a winter afternoon, your cyclo moved slowly passing the ancient streets while the northeastern monsoon was blowing through your hair and chilling your whole body; that would be your fascinating and memorable trip in Hanoi.

The entrance gate to Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake - Things to do in Hanoi

Bia Hoi at the corner of Hanoi Old Quarter - Things to do in Hanoi

In my opinion, Hanoi cyclos are smaller, lower and even simpler than those in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of them are well-arranged with the colorful banners of the roof. Started from the front of Dong Xuan Market, I took a 1-hour cyclo controlled by a veteran driver to explore the Hanoi Old Quarter.

While travelling through some small but noisy streets with names (in Vietnamese) such as mattress, silver, flower, sugar, salt and fish, I felt that this cyclo tour was a slow motion movie which took me back to the former Hanoi capital.

Hanoi looks more beautiful with many colorful and well-decorated streets as if it were ready for the coming festive season. Such an interesting trip as you can observe the immaculately dressed local Hanoians in their daily activities! They gathered in small groups eating on street-side shops, smoking pipe tobacco or enjoying grilled corn.

Enjoying a Ca Tru Show in Hanoi - Things to do in Hanoi

Performing Vietnamese traditional music of Ca Tru - Hanoi cyclo city tours

Beautiful The Huc Bridge across Hoan Kiem Lake - Hanoi cultural city tour

Ca Tra performance in Hanoi Old Quarter

On some street corners, tourists can see lots of expats sitting on small chairs along the pavements, drinking the famous “bia hoi Hanoi” (local draft beer) or tasting some grilled dishes – specialties of Hanoi Old Quarter. Even in the busy backpacker’s street like Ma May and Ta Hien, the music and sounds seemed to be not as animated as those in Ho Chi Minh City. Some featured dining addresses around the old quarter that tourists cannot miss including Xoi Yen (Yen’s sticky rice) on Nguyen Huu Huan, banh cuon Thanh Van (Thanh Van steamed rolled rice pancake) on Hang Ga, pho so 1 (No. 1 Vietnamese noodles) on Hang Muoi or grilled dishes at 47 Ma May.

The entrance gate to Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake - Hanoi city tours

The calligrapher at Ngoc Son Temple - Hanoi city tour

Inside Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi - Hanoi city tours

Inside Ngoc Son Temple Hoan Kiem Lake - Hanoi city tours

Beautiful The Huc Bridge across Hoan Kiem Lake - city  tours in Hanoi

To sum up, for those who are newcomers to the capital or regular guests, it’s worth to take chance traveling on cyclo around the old quarter for unforgettable experience. However, remember to bargain and discuss the route with the cyclo driver before starting your cyclo tours in Hanoi.

(Source SGT http://eleganthanoi.com/cyclo-city-tour-hanoi-quarter/)

 

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com