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Published: December 15th 2014
So I get my chance to check out Hanoi the day after I return to Halong Bay. I have breakfast at the hotel and get a map and get walking. My first destination is the Hoan Kiem lake with the temple and the turtle tower which is located in the Old Quarter. A guy I met at the hotel told me that the lake was to Hanoi as the Eiffel Tower is to France. Horrible comparison. The lake is nice and a lot of people are walking around it for leisure or exercise, but it's really very simple and nothing to write home about. I had a nice walk, and then spent some time in the market. I was planning on doing more walking around the old town, but I kept finding things to buy and then I'd have to walk back to the hotel to drop them off. It was pretty funny and the hotel staff was always excited to see my next purchase and what I paid for it. The Vietnamese culture is very inquisitive. At first I thought it was weird that the staff always asks where I was going or where I'd been,
what I bought, etc, but now I see it's just part of the culture. I really needed a new suitcase and mine has a broken wheel and the back is breaking out - though it's still fighting like a champ. I've traveled the world with that suitcase and I'm really sad to see it go. After checking out a few stalls and price hunting, I bargain the woman down to $30 or so, which I'm really happy with. It's a padded Samsonite suitcase with four wheels and excellent construction. Probably a $90 bag in the states. Score.
I then stop by another shop that has beautiful silk and rayon blend scarfs. Hanoi is known foe their special silk scarfs, but I really don't care for them. They are flimsy and I don't find them that attractive. Lucky for me because they are more expensive than the scarf blends. At this point I bite the bullet and I buy a scarf for every woman in my family and my friends. They are just beautiful, and I love having a stack of them with all the colors and textures. The shop owner has to leave on her motorbike to
pick me up more. cease I buy her out, another mission accomplished.
There are a lot of temples and pagodas but I'm just templed out, so instead I head south to the Vietnamese Women's museum. It comes recommended to me by a friend. I enter a plain building and walk to the first floor, where there is an exposition on women street vendors. It's very interesting. On the streets, all the food and flower vendors are women, and is had not out this together before. The Vietnamese women are strong - they carry baskets on their shoulders, set up shop as early as 5am, and are not thwarted by the rain. They have big smiles and ask your name and where you are from and then pretty much force you into their shops. On the whole though, they are reasonable and not overly pushy. Some of them have great phrases, "open your heart and your wallet" "c'mon darling, you buy something for me?" There is a DVD playing, and the women speak about how they work either to have a second income or because their husbands are injured, ill or deceased. One woman lived on her own
in a room with -0 other women for $0.35 cents a day. The female bonds are very strong, if you go to one shop, you will be asked to go to her friends shop, and then her daughter in law will give you a pedicure, and her niece will offer a massage, etc. They all sidle up on the street over steaming bowls of noodles and talk the day away.
The second floor is about marriage and family. Turns out there are over 50 tribes in Vietnam, and each tribe has different wedding traditions. Some of the hill tribes have matriarchal lineages, though most are patriarchal. The mother in law has a very important role in the family too - she actually names the children as long as the dead ancestors approve of the name. The mother is unable to leave the house for 1 month after the baby is born. The shaman often do a lot of rituals with the pregnant mother. Until recently, the women had the babies in the homes, and they still do in the hill tribes. It's not uncommon for them to leave the umbilical cord attached and wait until they get
home to cut it. The Hmong tribe buries the placenta under the front doorstep.
The hill tribe women chew betel and tobacco which turns their teeth and mouths red. They also lacquer their teeth so that they are black, an ultimate sign of beauty. The are famous for their brightly colored handmade clothes dyed with indigo.
There is a whole wing on women in the warm as Vietnam has a long history of wars, from china to France to the US. Women played a huge role in the war, not only as support for the troop and in political roles, but also in active combat. There were many women generals leading battles, and many women were tortured and killed.
Many Vietnamese also worship a "mother goddess" who is meant to watch over the families and provide guidance and peace. She has four different figures, red, white, green, and flowered, and there are often colorful worship ceremonies where men and women don the dress of the god and perform songs and dance.
Overall a really neat museum, worth the dollar and a few hours of your time.
After I had an okay dinner of noodles (I'm really striking out with food in Hanoi!) and went back to the hotel to board a night train to Sapa.
Stay at Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel, and book your tours with them. So friendly, and quality is guaranteed.
Even though I didn't do it, I heard great things about the food walking tours. I was pretty unimpressed by the quality of the street food in Hanoi, so the tour is probably a great way to find the good stuff.
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