What can we say about Hanoi except, what an assault on the senses! We spent one night by the Opera House in the French Quarter, where you can find some calm and wide boulevards. However, from our hotel in the Old Quarter, we were awed by what felt to us like chaos on the street. And we thought London was congested. What we found most remarkable is that everything takes place on the street (not in the homes which are generally tiny and overcrowded too). So you’re likely to see people cooking, playing checkers, making motorbike repairs, slurping soup, napping (most famously balanced on a motorbike) and getting a hair cut – all on the sidewalk. Not to mention the amount of hawkers selling rickshaw rides and souvenirs, while whining “buy something PLEASE.” Oh yes, and motorbikes get “valet” parked on the sidewalk so pedestrians like us say a little prayer and walk in the road. We found it very much like Frogger.
We enjoyed our visit to Ho Chi Minh’s residence, where we got to see his bedroom, office and car collection. We had to follow a very strict and solemn protocol at the mausoleum, where his body is preserved and displayed in a glass case, much against his wishes. Perhaps less enthralling was the traditional water-puppet performance we saw. But it was just right at 45 minutes, and made for a nice break from the madness outside.
Other things we noticed in Hanoi:
-Lots of caged birds dangling from poles and shop balconies.
-Incredible (and incredibly dangerous looking) bundles of tangled, electrical cables (as in Saigon) dangling here, there and everywhere
-Locals sit on child-sized plastic chairs while eating or hanging at the cafe. Either that or squat. The “cafe culture” that we read about wasn’t quite like the Paris cafe culture that we think of.
-Street names in the Old Quarter date back 500 years. Still today many streets specialize in certain goods (calendars, wicker baskets, clothes, etc). We found ourselves walking past the shoes street quite a bit.
-Lots of pollution. We splurged on our first face masks (most fashionable).