Arround the City, Hanoi
One of the best things that the French left behind in Vietnam is the cafe culture. On the streets, whether day or night, you will find pockets of people sitting around enjoying their cup of freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee. Even when it was way past midnight, on a deserted street within the Old Quarter, I saw young people seated on low stools sipping coffee, smoking and chatting quietly,
The one pictured is actually a shop that I didn't get to visit, but our tour bus passed by it a few times and this time, I managed to get a picture of it.
Fondest memory: How I lurve Vietnamese Coffee... the Arabica Beans which are grown in the highlands are hand - roasted with butter and afterwards a touch of vanilla is thrown in. The coffee is strong and robust with a slight bitter aftertaste that lingers on your tongue. Quite delicious when drunk with a spoonful of thick, creamy, sweet condensed milk. I miss it! ~sigh~
Viet Nam is still officially a communist country and of course, Vladimir Ilitch Oulianov has his statue or monument somewhere; preferably on a place easy to find, where the visitors can pay respect. The monument here is in Lenin Park, a small park just opposite to the Museum of military history and the Flag tower, on Dien Bien Phu Avenue.
Interesting in Hanoi is that Viet Nam has a long independence history, occupied from time to time by Chinese or French, it is an old nation, fought fiercely for independence, but the Vietnamese do not forget their big brother who helped them; I did not find a monument to other foreign communists (I think of Mao, of course. . . Chinese and Vietnamese fought against each other in the end seventies. . . ). There are not a lot of foreigners but this music is listened a lot in Vietnam (a French version for a small return of history!).
You may see in my other writings about military history, military training of school children, etc. . . and in Hanoi, if you walk around you will see lots of other monumental statues displaying anonymous or famous heroes (picture 2 near Hoan Kiem Lake, pictures 3 and 4 at the eastern end of Pho Phan Din Phung avenue, picture 5 at Dong Xuan market) , they are mostly militaries, fighters, guerilleros, insurgents, etc. . . . Viet Nam is a fighters country, no surprise they are independent and proud of it!
Favorite thing: Judging from the amount of motorcycles on the road in Hanoi, they must surely be the king of the road. At any one time, there are swamps of motorcycles on the roads especially the Old Quarter area, and crossing the roads (some of them do not have traffic lights) is an adventure in itself (see my warining section on how to cross road in Hanoi). Why are there so many motorcycles? Contrary to what you might think, this is not because the people of Hanoi cannot afford cars. According to my Vietnamese friends, the main reasons are because motorcycles are easier to move on the roads of Hanoi which are mostly quite narrow. Secondly, parking a car is a big problem in Hanoi as parking space is limited and very very expensive to the locals.
All over the streets of Hanoi you will see locals sitting on little stools on the sidewalk drinking glasses of beer that comes from a small keg. This beer is called Bia Hoi, and while of generally poor quality, it is definitely the cheapest tipple in town at roughly US$0.25 per glass.
Just take an available stool and allow the friendly proprietor to poor you glass after glass after glass of bia hoi. Then see if you can stike up a conversation with any of the locals around you. A truly unique experience.
Lakes are important landmarks in Hanoi, but not only! The old city developed between the western bank of the Red River and Hoan Kiem Lake; later, many temples, pagodas and palaces were built on the shores or islands of the nearby lakes, mainly West lake (Ho Tay Lake), where the breezes freshened a bit the air during the hot days. Also, many divinities in Buddhist religion are linked to water.
Today, the lakes have more “practical” uses: tanks for rainwater and water for household or industrial use (after treatment), waste intake, wastewater treatment ponds. . . . Well, the water does not look very clean, in general, but there are usually parks or gardens around, small restaurants, tea houses. . . It is very relaxing and pleasant to walk on the shores of the lakes, have a rest from the hectic traffic and the noise.
The map (picture 2) shows lakes I visited, once, or several times, and the small stars show other lakes; there are lots, and you are never far from one of them.
Picture 1: Hoan Kiem Lake, looking north, and Tortoise tower.
Picture 3: Fishing on Ho Tay Lake
Picture 4: “Swans” on Ho Tay Lake
Picture5: Young people like to meet. . . . and more on the quiet shores of the lakes.
Favorite thing: When I was exploring the compounds of the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in December 2006, I was lucky to be able to spot the marching of guards at the mausoleum, probably doing some guard changing ceremony. The compounds of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and its surroundings are very big and consist of many other attractions such as the Presidential Palace, Botanical Gardens, Ho Chi Minh Stilt House, Ho Chi Minh Meseum, One Pillar Pagoda, Ba Dinh Square etc. I would suggest that if you have the time, you need to spend at least one day to fully visit all the attractions here.
Favorite thing: Ok crossing the street in Vietnam is one scary thing whether you are in the South or North. You seriously feel like you are doing a challenge on Fear Factor. But believe me it can be done. Basically you wait until you see a small clearing in the chaos of the traffic and then you go. Once you decide to go there is no turning back. DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF A VIETNAMESE STREET OR INTERSECTION! The traffic will weave itself around you. The first several times are very scary, but by the middle of your trip you will find it no problem.
After playing Command & Conquer Game for years, this is my first time seeing propaganda tower speakers (see red circles) attached on street lamp poles.
Although the war is long ended, these speakers still there must be serving some purposes. I had never seen any of these back in my country.
Before the Water Puppetry makes it to theater and made known to international market, it is just a form of entertainment for local farmer during the flooding season of the fields.
It was much later played in some ceremonies and eventually makes it to theater.
Favorite thing: Ok I thought that it was very ironic that in Hanoi in order to pee you have to pay. It would be different if I was peeing in a beautiful pristine porcelain toilet, but literally you are paying to urinate in a hole in the ground. It only cost about 2000 VND but if you don't have the money the attendant standing guard won't let you in.
Tourist map is scarsely available at airport and hotels (especially those old and small ones). Do buy a tourist map if you find it difficult to move around and out of the Qld Quarters with your incomplete map.
It costs USD1 for a tourist map which consists of Hanoi,Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Vietnam travel map at local book store. I bought one at book store opposite Camellia 4 hotel at Hang Giay street.
Favorite thing: You will find that it is very easy to get about in Vietnam. One of the great things is if you are lost just look up at any of the many businesses you may be standing in front of. All of the buildings in the city have the street number and name of the street right on the front of the building in English. So when lost, just look up.
Favorite thing: Ok in the US if you are driving and someone honks their horn at you, sometimes it can cause a driver to go into road rage. However in Hanoi everyone beeps their horn. Seriously it got to the point that I thought the people beeped their horn just to say hi. You will learn soon to tune it out.
Favorite thing: Seeing the sights and sounds of a Vietnamese market is an experience for sure! You will recognize many items -- but not others. And the fish are incredible! Here we have some of the peppers that give Viernamese cuisine it's fire:)
The kids here are gorgeous . Always ready to say hello to us westerners. They have the most beautiful little faces. But before I took a photo I always asked the adult they were with if it was ok to do so.
Fondest memory: The friednly hellos we got from the children. My husband has tattoos and everyone was facinated and wanted to touch them.