TUESDAY, MARCH 17, 2009 – 68/76 – HANOI, VIETNAM
We awake to a cloudy morning and discover emails from our friend and attorney telling us that there is a problem with the shipment of our suitcase from Hong Kong to our home. It is held up by the customs agent for paperwork problems. After sending several emails to the customs agent, our attorney and our travel agent, we have done all we can do today to solve the problem from the other side of the world and with a 12 hour time difference. We will have to wait until tonight to see if we are successful. After a very nice breakfast, we head out on foot to begin our exploration of Hanoi. After shedding a dozen hawkers clustered at the corner by the hotel, and watching a Bride on the way to be married, we take our lives in our hands in front of the Opera House and cross Le Thann Tong street and head west on Trang Tien toward Hoan Kiem Lake and park. This walk of about 10 minutes is along sidewalks rapidly disintegrating into potholes and dust or mud depending whether someone has thrown a bucket of water on it recently. Walking anywhere in Hanoi, you are constantly assailed by the horns of taxis and motorbikes. Some of the motorbikes have retrofitted horns on them that make them sound like an 18-wheeler coming up behind you. As long as they do not sneak up on you, it is quite funny to be looking at a moped when it blows this monster sounding horn. We walk down the west side of the lake enjoying the view of the small mid 19th century Pagoda, Thap Rua or Turtle Tower. Dick stops at a Bank of New Zealand ATM and gets ₫1,000,000 (Vietnamese Dong) or about $55US. Which raises the question: “How many dings are there in a dong?”
It is very hazy today and we take some interesting pictures over the lake with the haze. We pay ₫10,000 each and go into the island temple of Den Ngoc Son or Jade Mountain Temple. This is one of the most revered religious sites in the capital. While we are there, many people come to worship. There is a very picturesque red bridge, The Huc or Sunshine bridge, out to it. We meet some Canadians while there. The older couple is visiting their daughter who has lived in Hanoi for seven years and teaches English.
We then explore several streets in the “Old Town” area. This area is a sea of humanity and every street seems to have its theme; as in the shoe street or the kitchen utensil street, etc. The time is approaching noon and little outdoor kitchens are starting up everywhere. A woman will walk up with a pole over her shoulder and a basket on each end. The baskets contain tiny stools, bowls, a brassier, food and drink, etc. She sets up on the sidewalk or curb and prepares or, at least, heats her food offering and starts dishing it out to her customers. The customers sit on the tiny stools or squat and eat their lunch. This scene repeats itself hundreds of times during our walk. Actually, some of the food in the pots looks and smells quite good but we also watch the dishes and chop sticks being washed in a bucket of water beside the cooking set up! We are sure that a westerner would have contracted something vile with the first bite of food.
At one point, we turn into a tiny covered alleyway, part of the Hang Be Market, where the theme is food in all its variations. We see fresh vegetables by the ton, seafood both live and dead; red meat butchered and laid out on tables with a host of flies enjoying themselves on each piece, fruit of every imaginable kind, etc. We even see the notorious Durian fruit but did not see any cut open and so did not get to sample its, reputedly, vile smell.
We finally wind up at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, take a picture or two, and then sit on a bench in front of the nicest looking building we have seen all day (no idea what it is) and people watch for a few minutes before catching a taxi back to the hotel. The fare is ₫12,000 but the smallest bill we have is ₫20,000. What the heck, ₫20,000 is only $1.18US. Yes, this is our taxi making a U-turn in the middle of the four + lane street to pick us up! We get some lunch in the hotel and rest for a while before heading back out into rush hour traffic to see the building containing the Museum of Vietnamese History. It was built in 1925 and is an interesting mix of French, Khmer and Vietnamese architectural styles. We then brave the traffic to see the Metropole Hotel, a noted Hanoi landmark, built in 1901.Carolyn chose not to stay here as it is still being remodeled.
Back at the hotel as the sun is setting, we clean up and go for drinks and a light dinner in the Hotel Club Lounge.