Hanoi, Halong and Hue
Hanoi Travel Blog› entry 3 of 20 › view all entries
Hanoi is a very manageable capital city. All the main sights are within walking distance and the central Hoan Kiem Lake makes a lovely focal point. To its north the old town is full of everyday shops including trad medicine ones with bottles of nasty looking liquid containing snakes, and others selling counterfeit "ghost money" to be burnt in Buddhist ceremonies. Fruit and veg are sold in the street. It looks beautiful, with some veg freshly prepared by the stall holders - potatoes and garlic peeled, carrots cut into shapes. These narrow streets are thronged with locals, scooters, delivery vans, bikes, hawkers and some tourists. To the south of the lake there are the more upmarket shops, many with beautiful window displays, especially those selling clothes.
On Monday we took a trip to Halong Bay, a Vietnamese tourist-brochure site. Islets of limestone, dozens of them, jut high out of the water. You sail around them to the floating villages where fishermen farm fish for a living. You choose one, it's netted, hit hard with a stave, then freshly cooked for you. We declined! Our young guide pointed out two rocks, traditionally called the Fighting Cocks. He said he preferred to call them "Kissing Cocks". We laughed childishly and avoided explanation. On the road we passed a motorcyclist whose T shirt read "Hartlepool, Death or Glory." Our tour companions for the day included 3 Thais, 4 Poles, 2 Roumanians an Italian and two charming Singaporeans. They were retired pilots who'd trained with the RAF and spoke Chinese to each other and English in clipped accents to us. It really was an interesting mix on a truly interesting day, and we got an invite to meet them in Singapore.
The Fine Art Museum had some lovely 17th Century carvings from communal houses. Its 20th Century display of lacquer and silk paintings seemed beautifully executed but most subjects were revolutionary. Titles included "Hanoi youths setting out to combat the American Aggression" and "When the shift is over let's meet and enter the best female workers competition."
The Military Museum outlined the campaign against the French with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu explained in detail, and the American campaign was fully covered and included twisted aircraft wreckage. Western anti-war sentiment was well documented and brought back memories.
Our 6 days in Hanoi were fascinating, especially once we'd become confident in crossing streets through the waves of scooters (also avoiding them on pavements when they took short cuts!)
So on to Hue on the overnight train.