Miscellaneous in Hanoi, Hanoi
In Dong Xuan market, you can find many cheap stuff. This market is more frequently patronised by the locals and some of the stuff are quite unique. But be prepared for its "cleaniness" and heat as you can get really sweaty and stuffy there.
I was walking around the old quarters and chanced into this street. This wet market sells local food stuff and fresh seafood. I was tempted to buy the seafood and BBQ on the spot. A trip into this market showed me the real economic status of the locals and their like and dislikes.
There isn't much to see here other than the remainder of the undercarriage of a B-52 sitting in the lake. However, the location of the wreckage, in an ordinary neighborhood, somehow provides a more concrete connection to the events of the 60s and 70s. This plane was shot down during the Christmas raids on December 19, 1972. There's a partly submerged memorial plaque here with the usual "Dien Bien Phu in the air" inscription. The site is 1 km west of Uncle Ho's mausoleum along Hoang Hoa Tham Road. You then turn south into of the alley, Lane 55, where a handwritten sign reading B-52 with an arrow points the way.
The minutes ticked by and finally there he was - Kent Nguyen, my VT friend. He looked quite different from his passport pics, but when he spoke, it was clear that he was just like his e-mails- helpful and warm in a quiet way.
We hopped into a taxi and I asked him to suggest a place where we could have a drink. It seems that in Hanoi, pubs & bars have to close by midnight and it was too late to go to the famous street where most of the pubs were, so instead, Kent brought us to a new joint that was still open, defying somehow the 12 midnight closing rules: the 17 Saloon (see my Nightlife tips).
After a couple of drinks and some casual conversation, Kent suggested that we may wish to take a walk around the Old Quarter. It was a very pleasant night to be out, the temperature cool, but not cold, and golden street lamps glowed in the mists, creating a halo around the trees and old French architecture giving everything a romantic tinge. We walked through the hushed shopping streets which were of course closed at that time of the night, and pass the food street where small groups of customers continued to enjoy noodles and drink Ca Phe (pronounced car fay) and beer right on the foot paths .
All too soon, it was time to say good night and good bye to a new friend, Kent. If any of you would like to know more about where to go or what to see in Hanoi or Vietnam, please do not hesitate to contact Kent. You can write him an e-mail via VT or write to me to have his contact handphone.
Wishing you all the best, Kent!
I wish I had taken some photos of the Old Quarter at midnight, but somehow, the mood was so lovely that I didn't even think of it. But anyway, here's a picture of the bartender that juggles at 17 Saloon.
Our group had arrived in Hanoi from KL after a transit stop at HCMC airport and had eaten a late dinner, before (finally!) checking into the hotel at about 10 pm (11 pm KL time).
I was tired but still determined not to let my first night in Hanoi be wasted on sleep alone. Anyway, I had invited Kent for a drink to thank him for all his help. You see, I had exchanged some e-mails with Kent (whom I knew was working in the travel industry) before finalizing my group's tour itinerary. On the day of travel itself, I had sent him a couple of SMS on a visa problem that one in my group was facing.
After a few more SMS, we agreed to meet an hour later, so there I was waiting outside the Bai Son Hotel with a colleague at about 11.15 pm, the street was dark, quiet ...and absolutely deserted. We paced around in front of the hotel, hoping that we had not missed Kent somehow. A few taxis stopped in front of the hotel and asked if we needed a lift but we shook our heads.
What did I know of Kent? Was it dangerous to meet a stranger through the internet? These were among the thoughts that went through my mind as I stood there waiting.
From his passport pics Kent looked rather young (below 28 years was my guess).
...the story continues...
Look out for the 82 stone plaques placed on tortoise shells if you're in the Temple of Literature. Some of these structures are more than 500 years old and they bear the names of some really smart people who managed to scrape through the Emperor's gruelling examinations. Yes, you'll find the names of 1,306 PHD students written in classical Chinese there..
Ever notice each tortoise bears different 'facial' features?
Ever wondered why you see cranes on the back of the tortoises in Vietnamese temples? Well, these animals carry a silent message as the tortoise is believed to live ten thousand years, and the crane one thousand years; and they're seen mostly in temples dedicated to Confucius, emperors and local spirits.
Two animals mouth a silent message: May you be remembered for one thousand years, and may your cult endure for ten thousand years.
Where:Nguyen Thai Hoc
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology houses an excellent outdoor reconstruction of ethnic houses.
Ever noticed the blatant sexual figures on the Tai funenary house?
Where:Nguyen v.Huyen Road 191/20/10 Nghia Do, Can Ciay Hanoi,
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology has an excellent outdoor section where ethnic tribal houses can be seen and explored. Take note of some kooky details if you're there.
Yin and Yang staircases at the foot of the Tay Longhouse.
Where: Nguyen v.Huyen Road, 191/20/10 Nghia Do, Can Ciay
Down in Ba Dinh square, where Ho Chi Minh used to chair national meetings lies a massive Mausoleum housing the dead body of Vietnam's most beloved leader and cadres of soldiers.
Goose-stepping soldiers clad in green march across the immaculate lawns of the Mausoleum
Where:Ba Dinh square
All over the world, you'll find a pair of stone lions guarding the entrance of any Chinese temple.
A stone lion stands, busy preventing the entry of evil but unable to prevent a flock of devotees from crowding the temple
Where:Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh District
Take a double-look at the menus in local restaurants in Hanoi. You'll find choices that are simply out of this world but normal to a Hanoian.
Fried Snake Pie or Beef Testicles Stewed with Duck? Baffling Choices on a Menu.
Where:216 Pho Tran Quang Khai, HoanKiem District
The Vietnamese make their masks out of traditional materials like bamboo and coconut leaves. Used in the local traditional theatre, each mask express a different character and emotion.
Every kind of emotion can be found on the faces of traditional theatre.
Where:Hang Can Street
A little old man sits in his little shop, wedged in a corner and churns of sketches from the yesteryears. HIs ex-colonial masters have left a deep impression on him as he wears a beret and speaks fluent french.
Gable, Leigh, Newman and Garbo with a deft flick of charcoal on nimble hands.
Where: Hang Bac St, Old Quarters, Hanoi
Not many know this but the ‘tortoises’ of Hoan Kiem Lake are actually rare Asian soft-shelled freshwater giant TURTLES .It's rumoured that one of these creatures grabbed a sword from an emperor once and returned it to heaven. Look out for a preserved specimen in the temple.
Preserved for the eternity, the sword grabber maintains an austere pose for locals and tourists alike.
Where:Ngoc Son Temple, Ho An Kiem Lake