Tam biet, Vietnam
05/23/2008 - 05/25/2008
Hanoi is another very busy and loud city. We saw a lot more cars here, but motorcycles and bikes are still the primary means of transportation. The roads are crazy with traffic, and stores spill out onto the streets and sidewalks making it difficult to walk around at times.
Taxis are a little suspect here. The speed of the meter seems to increase exponentially as you get closer to your destination. Steve is very good at bargaining and usually persuades them into a fixed price (no meter) before we start. A motorcycle clipped the side of our taxi today. Our driver simply cursed something in Vietnamese and kept on going.
Local life in Hanoi is really interesting. The open air markets are full of fresh flowers, vegetables, fruits, and every kind of meat and seafood imaginable -- fish, shrimp, squid, beef, pork, chicken…if it swims, squirms, crawls, or walks, they’ve got it.
Everything in Hanoi happens along the side of the street or on the sidewalk. Families sit and eat dinner together, and you can even have a haircut and a shave...
We are staying in the "Old Quarter" section of town near Hoan Kiem Lake. Hoan Kiem is a beautiful lake and park area, which includes Ngoc Son Temple and Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower). A 15th century legend tells of a magical sword from heaven being sent to the Emperor to defeat Chinese invaders. A giant golden tortoise then emerges from the lake to return the sword to heaven.
We opted not to visit the "Hanoi Hilton" prison, but we did visit the Ho Chi Minh complex. It spans a very large area and consists of museums, pagodas and the mausoleum. Unfortunately, Uncle Ho is away getting some work done so it was closed the day we were there.
We also went to see the famous Hanoi Water Puppet Show. It was really quite good. Water puppetry is performed in a chest-deep pool of water. The water's surface serves as a stage, and the puppeteers stand behind a curtain. This form of entertainment dates back to the 12th century. The scenes depict traditional village life and legends.
After a few days in the city, we booked an excursion to Halong Bay, which is a grouping of over 3,000 small islands north of Hanoi. The bus ride from Hanoi was about 3 hours. We then boarded a traditional junk boat which took us further into the Gulf of Tonkin and the bay islands. We moored in a quiet inlet and took a smaller boat to one of the islands to visit Hang Sung Sot “Amazing Cave". The cave was very impressive, consisting of three large chambers. Upon exiting the top of the cave, we were treated to a spectacular view of Halong Bay and the islands.
After returning from the cave, we went kayaking. It was fun to navigate around the islands and the rocks…the scenery was marvelous. We stayed overnight on the boat, and then returned back to Hanoi the following day.
Vietnam has a total of six UNESCO World Heritage sites. We have been lucky to visit four of those on this trip: Halong Bay, My Son Temple, Hoi An Old Town, and the Hue Citadel. We’ve had a great visit, even though there are still parts of Vietnam that we did not have time to see.
The people here appear very proud and confident. However, there is definitely a division between the people of the north and the south. We were surprised to hear one of our travel guides from Hanoi describe the people in the south as "slow thinkers". Even though the country is now "reunified", there still appears to be a rift.
We are now heading to Thailand for a couple of days before moving on to Cambodia.
Tam biet, Vietnam
Steve & Ann