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0041 Reaching Hanoi (Viet 002—new)

Hanoi Travel Blog

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Day 028: 10 hours, 5.7—total 20.7 kms

 I get up a bit late the next day, still dizzy from all that has happened over the last few days.  But there’s no time to pause and ponder on it all right now.  My mission is not quite complete: I must reach Hanoi.

I just relish the irony of it all.  My father and the entire brute force of the American military machine were never able to reach and conquer Hanoi.  And here I am, strolling into Hanoi armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar…

Frankly, not a whole lot of food that I find appetizing--  so I just settle for a bowl of beef noodle soup, then head up to the bus station.

Not a typical Hanoi scene

I sit next to a middle aged fellow with thick, horn rimmed glasses.  He speaks broken English quickly strikes up a conversation, and starts telling me of his years of service for the Communist party… his trips to China and to Moscow…

I tell him that I’m an American and he doesn’t flinch, or even breathe a word of criticism about my country.  Instead, he starts ranting about how the Chinese betrayed Vietnam during the war in Cambodia in the 70s… Whenever he mentioned the Vietnam war, he just says “the conflict...” and nothing more

I’m very intrigued by this… I mean, why won’t he talk bad about the United States? It obviously did a lot more harm to his country than China did…


My theory is this:  He considers me his guest in his country… and you never insult a guest, or the guest’s country…

This, along with my experience yesterday with the Nguyens I find deeply, deeply moving.

  It’s like, in a world of hatred and seething bitter feuds that just drag on over decades and centuries (think Bosnia, Palestine, Rwanda…) suddenly there’s hope that people can actually just leave the past in the past and move on…

And if there’s ever a people who have shown their resilience and ability to leave the past behind and move forward, it’s the Vietnamese.

We continue on through the beautiful countryside.  At each city, I just want to get off and explore on and on… But I know I can’t.  Time is limited.  And I must reach Hanoi.

Finally the bus stops for a break near some stunning rocky buttes.  Normally bus stops do not count as towns, but today I’m making an exception.  I pull out my guitar and start playing music for my fellow passengers…


…And that’s my parkbenching session in Tam Diep.

  I make the rules, and I decide that Tam Diep counts as a town…

(Note: later I change my mind and decide that, since I didn’t spend any time actually exploring Tam Diep, there’s no way I can count it as a town I discovered… so I scratched it off of my list…)

Arriving in Hanoi

It’s pretty late by the time I get to Hanoi, and there’s nothing around to give me my bearings.  The bus station is right on a lake or river of some sort--  which gives me a good view, but I still can’t tell which in which direction the “heart of the city” is.  I ask around but am unable to get any useful information. Finally I just hop on a city bus, hoping it’ll take me somewhere interesting.

Things aren’t looking good. The bus takes me on a dirt road along a highway construction stretch and then to what seems like the very edge of the city… I cross my fingers hoping it’ll loop around and take me back into the city.  Finally we do reach an urban area again and I decide to just get off and figure my way around on foot.

I wander through the city into the night feeling a bit apprehensive.  These are mainly working class neighborhoods with dirt roads--  not the kind of place you’d expect to find a hotel… and it’s getting later and later…

Finally, I cross a canal, and there I find a hotel.  I breathe a sigh of relief…

The hotel looks like something leftover from French colonial times with cathedral ceilings, peeling paint and cavernous rooms, giving it a bit of a haunted feel.

Welcome to Hanoi.

Next Day. (Day 029: 16 hours,20.0 kms)

Next morning I head out to explore Hanoi, the official high water mark of my journey.  The city that my country, with all its aircraft, tanks and guns was never able to conquer.  I’m eager and ready to roll.

Right beyond my hotel, the more interesting part of the city begins.  The claustrophopic, bustling old city, with narrow, winding alleys, with clothes hung out to dry strung overhead… Unique little ships, hidden gardens and shrines…

It’s exactly what I picture China used to be like.  Nowadays much of urban China is being torn down and rebuilt with monotonous high rise apartments and wide boulevards, but Hanoi is still a city of narrow streets and alleys.

Despite this fact, I haven’t seen a single traffic jam in Hanoi.  Traffic flows smoothly down its tiny streets.  Why?  It’s simple:  there’s about a ratio of 1 car for every 99 scooters here--  and you can fit a hell of a lot more scooters then cars in a two lane street.

I remember the traffic jams of Bangkok, where everything goes into total gridlock at rush hour… I think of the Old Cities of China that are being torn down to make room for wider roads… And I think “I sure hope folks here in Hanoi don’t decide to upgrade to cars here… it will completely ruin their city”

And the fact is that, with a little ingenuity, you can carry just about anything on a scooter… Crates of live ducks… 3 pigs… a family of 5… even a cow! 

Hopefully Vietnam will learn from the problems of its neighbors, and stay a scooter country for a long, long time…

I finally head out of the old city to a wide boulevard to get some air.  Getting a across a wide street with hundreds of scooters buzzing by without a break is a bit of a challenge.  Finally I figure out how you do it

I call it “the Running of the Scooters”… Which requires many of the same skills as “The Running of the Bulls”…

You just step out, right in the middle of traffic and scooters swerve around you to the left and the right, and just walk right through, like Moses parting the Red Sea. 

Of course, make sure there are no cars or trucks coming, as it’s a little harder for them to swerve around you!

Finally I ready for a change of pace… I enter a peaceful park built around a lake and play a bit of music for lovestruck couples strolling by…

I continue on east beyond the park… into a bustling market district… then north through a more modern banking and embassy district… then west again on a seemingly endless wide boulevard past shopping districts, high rise apartments, canals, offices… almost in a trancelike state as it the significance of this day begins to set in.

Finally, as the afternoon shadows start to lengthen, the buildings start to thin and it starts to feel like the edge of the city.  It’s time to turn around.

I head back towards downtown and finally come across a map.  I realize that in my random wanderings, I’ve missed a lot of the big hi-lights of the city.  I definitely can’t leave town without visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Masoleum…

I reach downtown again… it’s pouring down rain, but I mustn’t let that slow me down…

Finally I reach the monument district with a big statue of Lenin… seems a bit contradictive in this clearly very capitalistic, ambitious city…

The Masoleum is closed, but reaching it does feel meaningful in a way.  Ho Chi Minh face is still visible everywhere--  on statues, billboards… on the currency… Clearly Vietnam has not forgotten or tried to erase the role he played in shaping this country’s troubled history.

I bit farther I reach the monument dedicated to those who died in the Vietnam War--  or the American War as I guess they would call it over here.

These are all important stops on my pilgrimage… helping me grapple with my family and my country’s past…

I take a few moments of silence, then head on my way.

Back at the train station, I book an overnight train south… Then I head out to brave the rain again for one last tour around the city…

I’ve reached the high water mark of my pilgrimage.  Now it’s time to start heading home.

And there are still many adventures awaiting me.  Now I’m going to follow the trail of the Viet Cong, all the way to Saigon…

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Not a typical Hanoi scene
Not a typical Hanoi scene
Hanoi
photo by: mario26