Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
18Trip End Feb 04, 2005
Hanoi is an interesting city. I've left and I miss it already.
To start off, I did a walking tour of the old city. There's no rhyme or reason to the streets. You walk two blocks and the name changes. I think there are 36 total and each is named after an item, like jewelry, blacksmith, paper. And that's exactly what you get. All the vendors representing that item congregate together. Turn the corner and you get a new surprise. I stopped in for a haircut at one place. Watching huge vats of water being heated by charcoal fires on the sidewalk was too much to resist. Also got a scalp massage, face massage, shave, shampoo and rinse. Was enjoying it so much that I stopped paying attention. My hair is now shorter than in my baby pictures
The next day I walked over to the opera house to see what was playing. Next door was the Hilton, so I got a picture of this historic landmark. Sat down in the restaurant for an orange juice to read up on its history. Lo and behold, the real prison is a mile down the street. A few days later I went for a tour. Hoa Lo was actually constructed by the French in the mid 19th century to hold Vietnamese activists. One thing I didn't expect was two guillotines. From the Vietnamese perspective, the French rule here was pretty brutal. The prison only held American POW's for a few years towards the end. John McCain was one of the prominent prisoners. His whole flight uniform and accessories used during capture are on display. Pete Peterson was held there too. He later became the first American ambassador to Vietnam in 1996.
I signed up for a city tour to see the major landmarks. The first place they take you is to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. At first, I wasn't real excited. But as I got closer, I could tell how important this is to the Vietnamese people. Many make a pilgrimage here once a year. First, you have to surrender any recording equipment and bags. Then there's a long line to enter
Also in the tour I saw some prominent temples and pagodas
My tour guide continually talked about Vietnam's political reverence to China. What I kept seeing, however, were eager, entrepreneurial vendors approaching tourists. At the end of the day, I sheepishly asked, "is Vietnam still communist?" She was a little shocked. "Of course!!" Whatever communism they practice, it's sure not East-Bloc.
What else about Hanoi? Eight days in Vietnam and still no sun. Somehow I thought it was always hot here. One thing I like is that vendors just set up along the sidewalks and alleys. Restaurants too. All that's needed is a pot and some plastic stools and people show up. I've eaten lots of street food and it's usually pretty good. I just don't ask what's in it. There's only one word you need to know to get by in Vietnam - "No." I've gotten pretty good at it too. There are so many eager vendors here. Sometimes it does get annoying. Also, many intersections don't have lights. No reds, no greens, just a constant state of yellow. It was unnerving at first. Either you forge your own space through traffic or you just stand there. A few different times I turned my head just as a motorcycle cut in front of me by inches. One trick I learned is to just follow the locals and let them create interference.