Soaring with Dragons in Hanoi...part i


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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
March 9th 2009
Published: April 10th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

We are in Hanoi! Andrew and I have both wanted to come to Vietnam for a very long time and now that we are here, we can barely contain ourselves. The flight over from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport with a stopover in Singapore’s Changi Airport was laborious, but forget that, WE ARE HERE IN VIETNAM! YEY!

We are using Hanoi as a base from which to explore the northern hill country of Sapa and the north-eastern waters of Halong Bay. We are only here for two days on this leg of our trip, so as we put our bags down, we decided to engage in the Lonely Planet Guide walking tour of Hanoi to orient ourselves. This sounded like a great idea when we were sitting in our air conditioned car from Hanoi’s Noibai International Airport, however walking out into the afternoon heat and attempting to cross a manic road with no traffic lights and traffic going in all directions was a completely different matter! So instead we sensibly decided to hop into a taxi and go directly to the old quarter. Crossing the street is somewhat of a nightmare at first - the cars and motorbikes don’t really stop, they just slow down and go around you. So fighting the urge to make a dash for it across the road, you learn to shuffle your way across like the locals - slowly but surely. It's akin to trying to get away from a wild animal, you simply keep moving steadily without making any sudden movements, or making eye contact…apparently the theory is this way the motorbikes can see you, judge your pace and go around you. Riiiiiiight. Mind you, by our second day here we were completely fine with this.

Hanoi is a hectic and frenzied Asian city for the most part, but it also has a well designed and elegant French quarter and a wonderfully rustic and charming old quarter. As with most old quarters, the old quarter of Hanoi is its soul. It is so fantastically evocative, and it also gives you semi-respite from the frenzied tangle of cars, buses, minibuses, cyclos, motorbikes and bicycles that is Hanoi traffic. On our first night we had dinner at Little Hanoi and tried the local staple dish of Pho Bo - a steaming hot rice noodle soup with beef, chilli and fragrant herbs - it was so yummy. We will definitely be sampling the various regional versions of Pho along the way, although we can’t seem to slurp it like the locals…yet. However within a few days of being in Vietnam we realised that Pho Bo is mainly a breakfast/lunch dish for the locals and only served for dinner to the tourists! We also had the most delicious crab Spring Rolls at Little Hanoi. I want to be able to cook like this…

We loved walking around Hanoi, especially around the Hoan Kiem Lake area. The old quarter maybe the soul of Hanoi, but Hoan Kiem Lake is surely its heart. A cyclo ride around this area (although quite a touristy thing to do) is a wonderfully slow way to mingle with traffic and watch Hanoi in action - amidst the aroma of coffee and fresh pastries in the morning, and the heady scent of miscellaneous frying foods, chillies and garlic the rest of the day…not to mention copping a lung full of dust and exhaust fumes for good measure.

We stayed at a local hotel near the Temple of Literature. The Temple of Literature was Vietnam’s first university (in 1076!) and is dedicated to Confucius. We absolutely loved being close to this very special place. Its classic Vietnamese architectural lines are very pleasing and it has an overwhelming numinous sense that makes you feel extraordinarily calm in spite of the unfolding chaos of a large city around you. Another bonus of our location was that KOTO Restaurant was on the next street. This is a fabulous Australian supported organisation that trains disadvantaged young people in restaurant management and hospitality. It really needs tourist patronage to continue its work, and the food is fabulous too! If you can, walk up to the roof top terrace bar - it has a beautiful view of the Temple of Literature and the surrounding buildings. I would highly recommend visiting the temple and then relaxing with a meal, coffee or fresh juice on KOTO's roof top terrace.

Early on our second day, we visited Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, palace, stilt house and museum. This was more interesting and educational that I had thought - it’s one of those ‘should probably do’ things that really adds to the Hanoi experience. It gave us a good appreciation of how important ‘Uncle Ho’ was, and how influential his legacy still is. We also strolled through the grounds of the One Pillar Pagoda, which is an interesting wooden structure that apparently attracts people from all over the country who pray for the birth of a son! I hope the gods have a quirky sense of humour and bestow upon them a beautiful baby girl!

I should mention that since we arrived here, Andrew and I have been grinning a lot…at nothing in particular, just grinning. It could be the sheer joy of travelling again after a longer than expected break of 16 months; or that Vietnam is so exotic and different to anything we have experienced; or simply that the people are lovely, the food is so very delicious and the drink is plentiful…

Tonight we catch the sleeper train to Lao Cai, from where we will travel on to Sapa to begin our trek.

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