Everything Happens in Hanoi
Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
49Trip End Feb 04, 2008
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Our first pit stop in Vietnam was the city of Vinh where we would catch our sleeper train to Hanoi. Despite Vinh being a large city, let me tell you, people of the tourist kind are a rare and strange commodity, as we very quickly surmised. Traffic slowed to a crawl, cyclists and people on scooters rubber-necked, children pointed and waved and market vendors yelled to each other to inform everyone the circus, uh, I mean we were in town
Our sleeper train to Hanoi was the real SE Asian experience. Tiny little compartments were jammed with even tinier metal beds with worn down, 1cm mats. At barely 5'4 I filled the entire length of the bed, so you can imagine the free show Katherine and I got when we got to watch Hannah who's a very tall girl and Scott squeeze into their beds. We had tears rolling down our eyes and our guts hurt from laughing so hard, it was like watching Cirque de Soleil when the man gets into a tiny box, but in this case he can't, and this is no circus. It was hilarious! And then Hai, our guide dropped a bomb by announcing that the sheets provided by the train sometimes didn't get washed so there may be bed bugs, just a warning... so Katherine started taking her sheets back off, at which point Hai said the mattress was probably worse
We were beyond exhausted upon arriving at our guesthouse, and all four of us slept until the afternoon in which we had our last guided tour with Gecko's of the city of Hanoi. Our local city guide was a like a strict teacher, excellent in his information delivery, adamant about having our attention, and insistent on having two of us on either side of him, three and one would not do! We visited the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius which later became a university (for men only, of course), and is now used for special events and academic gatherings; the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex where Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body is kept despite strict instruction in his will to be cremated and scattered in different areas of Vietnam, as he was of the people. Up until recently Ho Chi Minh's body was sent to Russia between November and January where embalming experts would do the necessary maintenance and then he would be shipped back
Hanoi was also the primary spot to see the Water Puppet Theatre. This is an ancient and traditional art developed by the Vietnamese, in which they used to flood their rice paddies after the harvest making it a watery stage for a puppet show. In Hanoi this is recreated in a theatre setting and is sold out one or two days in advance despite its six showings a day. We'd never seen anything like it, it was really interesting and imaginative, but even funnier and stealing the show was the little one year old two rows down that could not contain his excitement and pointed, squealed and clapped until his little hands were red whenever a new puppet emerged or even moved
Our second afternoon was dominated once again by market and boutique shopping where the true, anti-shopping beast I have inside me finally came thundering out in SE Asia! I couldn't take it! I felt cramped and fed up and bored and wanted nothing to do with buying a stupid silk dress/scarf/shirt, I didn't care how unique it was or how many "cheap for you" promises were made. I did behave though (except for one mini tantrum) as we were with Katherine and Hannah, no point in bringing them down into my I-hate-shopping pit of despair with me, and especially as this was the end of our Gecko's Tour and our travels with the two of them, which we really enjoyed.
Overall, we really enjoyed Hanoi and learnt a new life skill: how to cross a road with 200 scooters, 30 cars, 10 bicycle rickshaws and 2 stray dogs coming towards you all at the same time with no intention to stop. You step out, walk with confidence, make eye contact with the drivers if possible and dodge or give way if necessary. When the other side is reached successfully, you breathe. Nobody will ever stop for pedestrians. Ever. You are essentially a moving pylon, all you can do is hope that everyone swerves around you at the right time.
Water puppet theatre: 3, but the clapping baby gets a 5
Crossing the road: 5, as an extreme sport, 1 if you have a weak heart
Sleeper train from Vinh: 2, spend the extra couple of dollars and get the four berth
Hoa Lo prison visit: 5, a very important place to visit