Hanoi

29 Oct

We’ve been to Vietnam four times now, and lately friends and coworkers have been asking me what it is that I like about the country. Honestly, I don’t have a clear response; there’s just something about Vietnam that Orestes and I have both taken a liking to. It’s less developed than Thailand (all of the countries surrounding us are). The food is amazing, with lots of flavor and fresh herbs. The people are super friendly and helpful. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, but sometimes it feels like the Thais are a little burnt out from being a tourist hub for so long – I’ve found other locales around Southeast Asia  to be more open and friendly. Whatever the reason, Vietnam is a wonderful place, and we were lucky to spend the week of October break traveling around the northern part with Sean and Shorna.

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The first stop on our adventure was Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Hanoi is not for the faint of heart, or those who prefer peace and quiet. The city is crowded and bustling, and full of old buildings, big trees, zooming motorbikes, and street vendors. The sidewalks are used for parking, so pedestrians walk in the street along with the five zillion motorbikes. Drivers use their bike horns to say hello, to tell when they’re passing, and just to announce their presence, so the sound of honking is a permanent fixture. To cross the street, the guidebook suggests making eye contact with motorists, proceeding at a steady pace, and walking “with a purpose”. In other words, he who hesitates is lost. It’s a bit overstimulating at first.

Once you figure out how to navigate successfully, Hanoi is good fun. The French colonial influence left behind many parks, and many narrow streets with yellow antique villas. There are multiple lakes throughout the city, and a river along the outskirts. In the evenings, people stroll around the Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi, or perch on tiny plastic stools enjoying delicious food and beverages. *Fun fact, Hoan Kiem means “Lake of the Restored Sword”. According to legend, IMG_9578a giant turtle found and returned a magic sword that a king had lost in the lake. The Ngoc Son temple on the lake’s island boasts a giant stuffed turtle of the same species. Helpful turtles aside, the lake is lovely, particularly at night. We spent several evenings people watching and being watched ourselves. On our last night, two separate groups of college students approached us to practice their English. After some fun but awkward interviews, we snapped some group photos with them.

Other points of interest in Hanoi include:

  • The Temple of Literature, which has some of the oldest Vietnamese architecture in the city
  • Hóa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton, where the French kept Vietnamese independence fighters, and then the Vietnamese kept Western POWs ~ some serious propaganda can be found here
  • The Vietnam Military History Museum, an odd conglomerate of photos, weapons, and captured American planes
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which contains Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body (we did NOT go in) ~ it was modeled off of Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, and in 2012 was voted the sixth most ugly building in the world by CNN
  • The Long Biên Bridge, which has some historical value and sounded interesting, but turned out to be rusting away and hazardous to cross ~ in Sean’s words, it was a mugging waiting to happen

We also enjoyed eating everything in sight! Vietnamese food is amazing. Some particular favorites are pho, a noodle soup, and báhn mi, baguettes with tasty insides involving pate, veggies, and meat ~ báhn mi were a recurring theme on our trip. We also tried egg coffee, beef salad, and cha ca ha noi, a northern fish and noodle speciality.

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Since most of these posts are dominated by my photography and ramblings, I like to give Orestes the last word. “Busy but not overwhelming. Friendly people. Cheap food and beer.” Sounds good to me!

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One Response to “Hanoi”

  1. Elaine McCormick October 30, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Thanks for continuing to take the time to blog about your excursions through Asia; I truly enjoy reading them. Love, Elaine

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