I arrived late the evening of the 14th of December, and after some fits and starts awaiting my bag, customs, and my ride to the city, I was whisked to Hanoi, a city of some 8 or 9 million people and as many scooters circulating the city itself. It is a vibrant city that has a beat of its own. I am glad that I had a guide with me the first day, as trying to cross streets in this city, is a challenge to say the least. Yes, there are stoplights and zebras, but that really does not mean anything, other than perhaps, as per my guide, the people in the cars and on the scooters, if they did hit a pedestrian, would be in very serious trouble. After so many attempts of crossing the streets and some of the larger boulevards, I did get the hang of it and glad to say I am here.
The city itself is a mix of old and new, parts still of the colonial history under the French in its architecture, from more than 100 years ago, but also the modern. It is fascinating for me to see, as this is a socialist country, how much capitalism there is here. I guess the government allows a balance if people don’t push the envelope. Many of the famous expensive brands exist alongside all the street food vendors, high rises, and shacks. It is a contrast of cultures in its religions and practices from the pagodas and temples to the celebration of Christmas in all its capitalist ways, songs, and Santa everywhere. Cash is king here, but you can use a credit or debit card here in many places, but not in most street food areas. The prices across the board are very reasonable as the exchange rate with the Vietnamese dong and the dollar or any western currency is very favorable. Coffee culture is also very important, but I did, along side my guides, have a cappuccino, and an expresso and yes, tried a Vietnamese coffee. It was alright, but not really my taste.
For me, the sights, sounds and smells of this city is the vibe. While the first day, I was with a guide and got the details, the facts and figures and enjoyed some authentic experiences, including the street foods and other local fare, honestly, I am Pho’d out, my second day, I explored on my own. I did get to the Hanoi Hilton, the prison which housed the downed American pilots in the Vietnam War. It had been a prison will before that though, however, as it was used by the French during the colonial times when the Frech were here. It is now a museum and showed a history of its use including a guillotine on exhibit. The idea of an independent Vietnam goes back a long way, and the museum presents it in such a way. One of the reasons I did come here, was to get a fell for both sides and the museum certainly reflects that agenda. All the locals are heroes in defense of their ideals in creating a Vietnam for the people. I am not here to make judgements from either side. I hate war no matter what, but having a heavy push in either direction is not for me. I am simply sharing my thoughts and wanted to get a feeling of the other side. Though, the Vietnamese government did honor John McCain who was one of those pilots shot down during the way. I guess time does heal the wounds of war.
After leaving Hanoi, I did an overnight experience of Ha Long Bay, away from Ha Long Bay on a one-night cruise. It was a very nice experience overall and seeing the nature was wonderful. I have to say that Ha Long Bay, as others whose reports have noted, has become too touristy and honestly, I would have to agree. I did see so many boats there that is took away from the beauty of the area. Once away from there, you get a better idea of the beauty of the region. I can see doing a longer time there, but my time was necessarily short. After the overnight cruise, I was on the road again, back to Hanoi as I flew last night to Da Nang for the next leg of my journey which was a long day, sailing, driving, flying, and then driving to this town of Hoi An and area of central Vietnam where I will be for the next couple of days. I am excited for these next few days to see the local culture and history of the region, and maybe some food, as well.
As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, concerns and continuing the discourse through whichever means you read my posts and as the Christmas holiday approaches, I want to wish everyone celebrating the holiday, a very Merry Christmas!!! Thank you as always for your support my crazy little world and business!!!
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Weathering the Storm with the Wandering Puffin