We have been in Hanoi for a few days now and have found it an easy city to be in and explore. We are staying in the Old Quarter which is a mix of tired colonial charm and busy modern day commerce, held together with a friendly, industrious people. Every where you look is a photo opportunity, from women laden down with their daily trading goods to hawkers selling conical hats, fans and ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ t-shirts. Beautiful displays of fresh vegetables laid out on the road side to inordinate amounts of telephone wires and electricity cables running up and down the streets culminating in extraordinary aerial heaps hanging inches above your head.
For sightseeing then Ho Chi Minh’s (Uncle Ho’s) Mausoleum is inevitable, although we didn’t view his cigarette holding embalmed body, just the large imposing building that houses him. Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French to suppress any signs of Vietnamese independence brewing and more recently used to hold US POWs during the Vietnam war, where it was ironically known as the Hanoi Hilton. Other places of note are the One Pillar Pagoda, Botanical Gardens, Temple of Literature and the wonderful Tran Quoc Pagoda where the air was full of incense and the sound of chanting.
For the science fiction fans out there, we left our restaurant on our last evening in Hanoi, it was hot, humid and looking up the tropical rain was cascading from the high rooves and hoardings. All that was needed now was some large floating advertisements and Harrison Ford running purposely through the crowds in search of missing replicants. Anyone know the film?
Majestic and mysterious, inspiring and imperious – words alone cannot do justice to the natural wonder that is Halong Bay, where 3,000 or more incredible islands rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Unfortunately, words alone will have to do as the remnants of Typhoon Nira had beaten us to this World Heritage Site and we were unable to sail out amongst the limestone pillars of this unique seascape. We spent that evening crying into our Hanoi beers, which were inadequate substitutes for kayaking, swimming, cave exploring and a night on a luxury boat. It was a bitter blow as it was supposed to be one of the highlights of our trip.
Our guide, Pheung, is barking! A boyish dynamo of smiles and enthuiasm he has so far kept up safe, fed and informed about this wonderful land and the history that has shaped it. He sings a selection of classic hits at the drop of a nón lá and is working tirelessly to ensure we are being taken care of, if not by him, by someone else. When it was becoming clear that our trip around the bay was not going to happen he organised a party in his hotel room with beer, wine and some karaoke from his eclectic library of tunes. A truly nice guy.
I couldn’t finish this entry without mentioning the traffic again, it is simply a fascinating phenomenon to me. It is everything that our own Highway Code isn’t, it just has it’s own mechanics of success that you simply wouldn’t expect. For example, a lone cyclist enters a four lane highway, firstly crossing approaching westerly traffic and then broadsiding slowly across to the eastbound carriageway to slot in seamlessly into the network without what seems a care in the world. Motorbikes simply adjusted their trajectory and cars, buses and trucks patiently protect him from any dangers behind. From this I have surmised that if you (the driver of any vehicle) concentrate on what is going on in front of you and everyone behind you does the same then all will be well in the world, karma!
Off to Hoi An next.