Part V Hanoi Vietnam
Since a big part of our Hanoi time was spent in Ha Long bay, we only ended up with about a days worth of time here.
For some reason I did not carry my big camera around so I only have phone pics from this part of the trip. First night was at an airbnb, which was really nice and in a super interesting little alleyway / neighborhood with a very cute top floor balcony porch & interesting views. We were only there one night before we took off for Ha Long bay.
We had enough time to check out Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city (famous legend of a turtle god loaning his sword to the Emperor to fight the Chinese is based here – Wikipedia has it if you care) which is the center of the walking scene downtown and the Old French Quarter of Hanoi. That area is famous with tourists because of it’s quaint houses & endless shopping & eating opportunities.
I had read, and been told that Hanoi was very different from South Vietnam, from the demeanor of the people to well… basically everything.
“people aren’t as friendly” was something I’d been told. I actually had a twinge of nervousness about visiting this city that had been our arch nemesis in the war.
Physically the city has a very different vibe than Saigon, it seemed more affluent to me right off the bat, which big tall skinny houses dominating the skyline every which way. The main highway thru the city features what we took to calling ‘the mile of tile’. What it is is actually a giant ceramic tile mural that lines the dike system of the red river in Hanoi.
It’s 6.5 Kilometers long (4 miles) and is really cool. It has a huge variety of artwork that reflect different periods in Vietnam’s history.
The main highway thru town is big and modern, but you’ll still fight a million motorbikes to get anywhere.
And yes, there IS a different vibe here. People are much more quiet and reserved than in Saigon. In Saigon you can’t walk anywhere without someone yelling at you for your business, and the endless eating & drinking shops on the sidewalks are loud & gregarious.
It is cooler here as well. People dress like it’s winter time! (It was) I got none of the friendly smiles from groups of people I got in Saigon. It felt a lot more like well… an American big city. People chat quietly, the men sit about with hookah pipes and kind of keep to themselves. When touring the shops, there were no aggressive sales tactics, they were much more laid back and let you look around and leave if you wanted. A lot of them had their heads in phones…. just like home.
However, should you actually happen to engage anyone, they were just as friendly as ever, and appreciated my language skills just as much if not more than in the south.
I happened upon a couple of older gentleman in the park (old enough to remember the war) playing a banjo and singing thru a battery powered amp, and took the opportunity to stop and exchange some pleasantries. He spoke to me in french initially… (I don’t look french damnit), when I didn’t understand he asked where I was from in English, and I responded ‘american’ in Vietnamese. He smiled and hollered to his banjo playing friend… Oh, our man is american here, play some song name I have no idea of. I
assume it was something I should know. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. They were kind of hilarious. I grinned and took my leave.
At a clothes store shopping for North Face gear, I tried to barter a bit with the owner and he told me, “I already give you best price because you the only people come in my store all day long. If you not show up, maybe I not eat breakfast tomorrow”. I got a kick out of that. I paid $15 for a North Face rain slicker and got out of there.
The day we returned from Ha Long we were back in the city and came back to the same park & the old quarter to eat and walk about. They had closed all the roads around the park since it was Sunday and it was beautiful outside, and there was a carnival vibe in the air. Street vendors everywhere and the opportunity to walk about with no worry of traffic was FANTASTIC.
When we returned we had decided to book a room at the Sheraton in Hanoi so we could store everyone’s baggage there, since all but 4 of use were flying out that night.
Apparently there was diplomat or famous politician staying there because security was on high alert and they were actually Scanning baggage to get in the hotel. We had to explain that only a few of us were staying there but we were just storing baggage for the day. They started scanning our bags and promptly broke the scanner. No one seemed to know what to do… So they just checked our bags manually and let us thru.
After a long day we all went back to the hotel to rest and see the groups off for the flight home. I definitely had some anxiety happening, my wife, daughter, and Vietnamese mother in law were all leaving, along with all the other native Vietnamese speakers. We would be on our own with no translators from here on out. We eventually saw them all off and crashed for the night, looking forward to the next phase of our adventure, Ninh Binh Province.