Thursday, February 21, 2013

SE Asia Day 14: I love Hanoi

We got our bearings in the Old Quarter of Hanoi somewhat last night and came back to our hotel, the Koto Hotel. $15 a night. The room was big enough and the staff was super friendly and helpful.

The view out our window was decidedly less beautiful than the last few nights.


After the free breakfast at the sister hotel across the street, an all you can eat affair of eggs, rice, noodles, toast, and fruit, we went about our first order of business - seeing about changing our airline ticket to fly out of Hanoi instead of Bangkok. We traipsed over across town to the Eva Air office in the business sector of town. On the street outside of a hospital, we witnessed something we can olly hope for in the U.S. - valet scooter parking!

The street around Hoan Kiem Lake was still all decorated for Tet.


Unfortunately, We were unable to change our flight because the flights back to the United States are all booked solid. So at least now we knew how many days we have left.

Second order of business was to get some decent coffee. Our hotel and the cheap restaurants all serve instant. Gross. We were in search of the fabled Vietnamese coffee. We hit a high end coffee shop, and had some really good espresso, but still no Vietnamese coffee.

Next up was to plan our next move. As we walked to the travel agent's office, we just took in the sights. This city could use an overhaul of the electrical grid.


Even with the aid of an Austrailian woman working at the travel agency, we still had a difficult time understanding what we would be getting on a hiking trip to the Sapa region. While I was sorting out the details over tea and cookies, Drew took the opportunity to get some business done for $3.

With our train ticket and one night hotel in Sapa booked, we got a bite of authentic Vietnamese lunch. It was delicious.


We had almost two days to kill here in Hanoi, so it was time to be tourists. My guidebook had a walking tour of the Old Quarter written out, so off we went, map and book in hand. Even trying to be inconspicuous and discrete about when and where we looked at our papers, we were solicited tens of times for motorcycle taxi rides or the ricshaw rides. No matter, we were on a walking trek.

First was a cool, quiet little street called Tam Thuong alley. I loved the feel of this street compared to the bustle of busy Hang Bong street.

We saw many little temples or communal houses.

And the citadel
Bird cages with birds!
This was Hang Vai, which is now the bamboo district. I loved this part of town because it was a little bit quieter and we saw fewer foreigners.

Next was Lan Ong Street, home to a large enclave of Chinese who sell herbs and "medicines". I didn't recognize anything!


We happened on a school just as it was letting out. No soccer moms picking up their kids in giant SUVs here. Scooters rule.


Our path took us to Quan Chuong Gate, the only remaining gate of the city's once formidable fortifications.

Just as interesting as any of the sites in the books were random things like this delivery truck the size of my Toyota. Most things are very small here.

Bach Ma Temple was built in 1010 and is dedicated to the White Horse which, legend has it, helped the early king of the Viet people defend his city.


We also noted lots of old French colonial buildings.


Wow, 3 hours of walking on uneven streets in crazy traffic. We were hungry and needed a beer. We finally got to eat some street eats. It was a delicious adventure.



As if we had not seen enough, we got in one more activity, the water Puppet theatre. It was a little bit cheesy, but the music was great and the puppeteers were skilled. The seats, though, were very far from long enough for Drew.



My impression of Hanoi was so much better than I had expected. I had read and been warned that it was such a big city, awful traffic, pick pockets, hawkers. It does have all that, but it also has a fun, lively energy similar to New York City. The traffic is a beautiful thing, with scooters dominating but flowing in and around bicycles, trucks, cars, carts, and pedestrians. We didn't have anyone jostle us at all. In short, I love it!


Tomorrow night we take an overnight train to Sapa so we may not have Internet access for a few days.

Adventure awaits.


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