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Published: December 5th 2009
We were in Vietnam in 2000 and were a little hesitant about returning as we had heard that it had changed a lot. Hanoi was my favorite Asian city at the time and I didn't want to spoil my memories of it. However we had always wanted to enter China from Vietnam so decided to go back. We had applied for our Vietnamese visas in Bangkok, but left applying for our Chinese ones until we arrived in Hanoi. Another quick and efficient flight on Air Asia had us at Hanoi airport where we were met by a taxi sent by the hotel we had booked. It was dark so we couldn't see a lot on the 45 minute trip to the old town - though we noticed many more cars and a lot less bicycles on the roads. The hotel was great - 5 minutes walk from the lake - spotlessly clean, wi fi enabled rooms (with free in room laptop - never been offered that before), full satellite TV channels and the best bed we've slept on in 7 months! Certainly not the Vietnam we remembered.
Next morning we were up early and at the Chinese embassy to apply for
our visas - only to find that they won't issue them to foreign tourists here! They had to be applied for in HCMC - or the embassy could send our passports there and we would be without them for 6 working days. Not a good idea in Vietnam when you can't book into a hotel without them. Our fault for not doing our research again - we're not the most organised of travelers. So once again our plans have changed - we got our calendars out and decided that we were running out of time and really wanted to spend a month each in Laos and Cambodia so have decided to forgo China. If we have time at the end we will fly out of Hong Kong and spend a couple of weeks on the mainland. We weren't unhappy about this decision as once again we've fallen in love with Hanoi. We discovered the Army Museum close to the Chinese embassy so that was a bonus - Jerry found the visit interesting, though many of the exhibits were very sad, whilst I enjoyed a good coffee in the cafe in the grounds. We have decided that Hanoi is a wonderful
city - very changed but it has modernised with grace and charm. Have noticed one KFC but no Big M's here. The shops are great though - a lot of western labels, some very expensive brand names (all the French cosmetics and labels in particular). Lots of motorbikes but no horns honking constantly. The streets are very clean and the people very friendly. Not a lot of tout pressure here- or maybe there's just a lot less then in India so we're not noticing it....
We've become instant millionaires as AUD $1 is equal to 16,000 dong - you only have to buy a few small items to spend a million dong. No low denomination notes now though which means less notes from the ATM. Last time there was only one ATM in the whole of Hanoi - an ANZ one! Today they are everywhere of course, as are mobile phones and internet cafes. We spent the remainder of the day exploring the old city - all the streets still follow the old pattern - one whole streets sells religious items, another zips and cotton, another metal ware etc.
Next morning we booked tickets to Halong Bay, Sapa and onward
to Hoi An (to catch up with my cousin Ros and her husband Michael who were staying in Hoi An for 3 months0) and then to HCMC. Finished the day off with drinks by the lake - a happy hour watching the locals doing evening aerobic sessions and walking their tiny dogs. One thing which is still the same as last visit is the women's evening attire - most still wear pajama suits in public to relax in. Their version of our sports wear - but it does look slightly odd to our eyes to see them out walking in snoopy dog and cuddly bear patterned cotton interlock pj's! Up early next morning we caught a taxi to the Museum of Ethnology - it was a great display which we found informative and very interesting as it showed the customs and dress of Vietnam's many indigenous people. The grounds were great as they were set up as villages. A taxi took us back to the centre of the city to visit the Women's Museum. It highlighted the hard life of the women in Vietnam and their participation in the various wars which have raged in this country. A walk back
to our hotel with lots of stops to explore side streets and shops. Found it very easy to part with cash here as there are lots of great things for sale in the shops. Not good for the budget!
We revisited the Temple of Literature next day - a very peaceful spot with lovely goldfish ponds and pretty gardens. It was dedicated to Confucius in 1070 and established as a university for the mandarins. The garden is lined with 82 stone tablets, all set on the back of stone turtles, which are copies of the doctorates that the mandarins received. On the way there we spent a sobering hour visiting the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' (a prison called that by the US POW's who were imprisoned there during the 'American' War - not the Vietnam War as we know it as. Not a happy place to visit as it was full of instruments of torture (all which would have been regularly used).
We lightened up with lunch at Koto Cafe - again we were here in 2001. It was set up to train street kids in the hospitality industry and dozens have graduated over the past years, many since working for
Statues showing various stages of life
These are placed around the mausaleum in the tribal vilages
some of the top restaurants in the world. The food was as great as we remembered! Later that evening we were talked (pressured) into doing the tourist thing by a cyclo driver who pedaled us around the old city as the sun set. It was quite pleasant - he was a pretty happy guy - though I always find it hard to relax when another person is using their strength to pull me around.
We had a trip booked for 3 days and 2 nights to Halong Bay (next blog) the next day which we were really looking forward to. Our previous trip years earlier had been canceled due to bad weather. We spent one more night in Hanoi upon our return form Halong Bay before catching the overnight train to the scenic area of Sapa - again next blog - before our last day in Hanoi. I decided I wanted to visit Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum so I joined the queue ( Jerry deferred). He looked as waxy as I remember lying in his black marble tomb but I'm pleased that I made the effort again. Afterwards we wandered through the grounds of his house - stunning gardens -
and around the large square in front of the mausoleum. We weren't brave enough to walk across the square because last visit we did and got into trouble! That afternoon we spent an hour at the Water Puppet Theatre which was enjoyable - the children in the audience certainly enjoyed the show. The puppets' movements are controlled by sticks which are under the water so it appears that they are dancing on the surface of the water.
Hanoi seems to have relaxed a lot since then though. Really pleased that we returned - the city is greatly changed but is still beautiful. The French influence is still very obvious from the baguettes sold on each corner, the dozens of coffee shops selling pretty decent coffee, beautiful architecture and all the French tourists - the city was full of them. The food was great, very cheap and tasty . Jerry discovered fresh draught beer for sale on the corner near our hotel where for 30 cents a tankard you could enjoy a cold beer whilst perched on a little plastic stool. A great way to end the day ! And a top place to watch the never ending parade of life
on the streets of Hanoi....
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