Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
109Trip End Mar 31, 2011
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Much is made of Hanoi feeling like a European city, which we would disagree with. Yes there are some buildings left behind by the French colonialists, and many other buildings that have been influenced by that style, but its not really a style you see anywhere in Europe and at any rate, the vibrancy and the way people live here is thoroughly Asian
The other most notable aspect of Hanoi is that life takes place on the streets. The centre of the city is made up of fairly narrow streets, and the shops are all fully open at the front, with their wares spilling out onto the street, there are then people selling things from places on the pavement, as well as itinerant merchants with bicycles. There are always people sat on the pavement cooking and eating, or drinking coffee and playing cards. The sad thing is that the huge number of scooters in the city need somewhere to park and they all choose the pavements. This is a bit of an inconvenience as it means you always have to walk in the road, but more importantly it must also threaten this way of living and conducting business on the pavements, as well is making it sometimes just too much effort to negotiate a path through the parked bikes to get into a particular shop, which can hardly be good for commerce
We went to a water puppet show, which is rather delightful. The stage is a pool of water with the puppeteers behind a bamboo screen at the back, with wooden puppets of people and animals on the end of long bamboo poles. Some of scenes are dances of the 'sacred animals' - the dragon, the unicorn, the phoenix and the turtle, and some show scenes of village life, like ploughing the fields or planting the rice. Its all rather silly in a way, but the puppeteers are brilliant and the sight of the puppets frolicking around the stage is enchanting.
Our only major problem has been that we had planned to get our Chinese visas in Hanoi and then get the direct overnight train to Nanning, where we wanted to start our trip around China. We had read that people had been having problems with getting visas in Hanoi and that it was best to use an agent. After arriving early in the morning from the overnight train, we went to see an agent who told us that they couldn't get us visas any more; we couldn't believe this and made the mistake of going straight to the embassy