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Published: December 6th 2009
We arrived back in Hanoi at 4:30am and found a fleet of taxis waiting at the station, even at that early hour. After dealing with the usual taxi scams (driver not wanting to use the meter, quoting us crazy prices, claiming to not have any change, etc.), we were dropped off at the Serenity Hotel at 5am. The hotel staff were sleeping on the couches in the lobby. We felt awful waking them up. They didn't have a room ready for us and instead walked us over to another hotel they manage nearby which has a bigger lobby. There we woke up another group of sleeping hotel employees and were offered their couches to sleep on (and also the computer terminals for internet). Feeling terrible about waking up another three people, we said we would just use the internet, but in a flash the employees scattered, leaving the entire lobby to us.
It seems that a lot of the kids come to Hanoi to work in the hotels under conditions that few, if any, American teenagers/young adults would accept in their early days of employment.
At around 7:30am, we were able to gain access to our room and were
Wedding photo shoot at Hoan Kiem Lake
able to shower. The room had not been cleaned so we left around 8:30am to go for a walk just as housekeeping arrived.
The old quarter was already buzzing as we walked north to the huge Dong Xuan market. This is the mothership of all markets in Hanoi, the wholesale link in the commercial chain. It puts all other markets in SE Asia to shame. It's a positively enormous hangar-like building crammed with masses of products that you see all over Hanoi - from rhinestone-covered barrettes to goofy-looking stuff animals to laquerware, T-shirts, even appliances and bedding. The people at the market are not friendly to slow-moving tourists- this is where locals do business. We kept being shoved out of the way by tiny women carrying enormous bags, seemingly larger than themselves, stuffed to the top with their wares for the day.
Another cold day (around 55-60F) and cloudy. Without much to do, we wandered through the winding streets in the northern and eastern parts of old quarter which we had not explored. After a quick rest at the hotel we grabbed lunch at Bun Bo Nam Bo (ok we are officially addicted to Bun Bo) and then walked down to Hoan Kiem lake for the 2:15pm performance at the Water Puppet theater.
Water puppets are a traditional Vietnamese art form. The stage is a large pool of water with the backdrop of a traditional Vietnamese farm house. The performance consists of a series of 20 or so vignettes (Vietnamese legends and scenes of daily life in the country) accompanied by traditional Vietnamese music. One legend specific to Hanoi describes how a magical turtle provided a Vietnamese ruler with an Excaliber-like sword to banish the Chinese from the land (and then promptly took it back after the ruler had succeeded because he didn't deserve to keep such a powerful weapon). The puppets are wonderful: men, women, oxen, cats, dragons, fish, sea monsters and, of course, the turtle. It's very cute and entertaining.
After the show, we walked to the nearby office of the Columbus Adventure Travel agency, the group that will be taking us to Halong Bay tomorrow. We are very excited for our trip. Halong Bay is a stunning bay about three hours east/southeast of Hanoi. It's a UNESCO world heritage site and is filled with exotic limestone karst (rock formations), beautiful islands and mysterious caves. After a lot of research, we'd selected a cruise on the company's Pinta Gold luxury "junk" (traditional boat). Most tourists opt for a quick 2 day, 1 night trip aboard a small, cramped boat but we've decided to spend a bit more for a 3-day, 2-night cruise on one of the nicest boats on the bay (even our hotel manager, upon hearing the boat's name, said "wow - nice boat!"). Apparently there are only 8 cabins onboard. The dinner and lunch menus look delicious and the itinerary includes morning tai-chi lessons, kayaking trips to explore the caves, and drinks on the deck at sunset. Compared to our Sapa misadventure, this should be heaven.
The Columbus Adventure Travel office looks very new and the staff seem very professional. We paid for the balance of the trip via credit card and confirmed a pickup time of 9am tomorrow.
Angelique notices that the Columbus Adventury Travel staff have a big plastic pig humidifer which blows moist air out of its large nostrils. Very cool. Would make a great Christmas present for a younger sister perhaps.
The area below the Hoan Kiem lake is much nicer than the Old Quarter. The streets have nice wide sidewalks and there are fewer scooters zooming around. Several embassies, colonial building and government buildings are located here as are a few of the nicer hotels including the grandest of them all, the Sofitel Metropole. The Sofitel Metropole looks luxurious - a mini oasis in the middle of crazy, dirty, dangerous Hanoi.
Just west of the Metropole we peeked in a large bookstore with an entire floor dedicated to foreign language books. The John Grisham and Danielle Steele novels were priced at about $10 each; the classics (no longer under copyright protection) at $3 each. Adrian picked up "Dracula" for some pleasant bedtime reading on the cruise; Angelique opted for an Edith Wharton novel.
This evening has been uneventful. We went in search of Vietnamese food but were sidetracked by the promise of good beer at the Australian-owned "Le Pub". After a few beers and a plate of french fries with ketchup (yum!) we decided to eat at Le Pub.
We can't wait to see the bay tomorrow!
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