A short tour of Hanoi

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
January 20th 2016
Published: January 20th 2016
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I arrived in Hanoi from Ha Long Bay in the late afternoon. Sadly, I realized that my days are numbered in Hanoi. I am leaving tomorrow afternoon to Da Nang. I lost about half a day when I had to delay my paragliding due to the bad weather. Well, that is the problem of back-to-back tours. So far, I have been lucky, but a single delay anywhere can result in a domino effect. Anyway, it is what it is. I have only tomorrow morning to see Hanoi. And I have to make the best out of it. I know today will be a busy evening for me in Hanoi. I have to meet so many people to say good bye. First, I have to see Alice before HTS office closes. I promised that we will have tea together before I leave Hanoi. May Linh is in town. She is coming with her friend Coco to see me. Three of us plan to go out for dinner together. Milu is coming after work with Duong to say good bye. She is hard pressed for time due to her work. It would be really nice on her part to make time for me. Julie also wanted to come to say good bye and may be go out for a drink. Unfortunately, I could not arrange a time with her ...I was simply running out of time. I said good bye to her over the phone.

Alice and I sat down in a tea stall across her office. She treated me with a nice cup of tea. We sat down for a while and talked. She is interested in visiting India sometime. She also explained my travel plan for tomorrow. I have a half-day trip in Hanoi. I wanted to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. She told me Lucy will be my guide tomorrow morning. Lucy will be off after the morning tour and the car would take me to the airport. She suggested that I check out in the morning and load my luggage in the car. I thanked Alice and we said “Tam Biet” once we finished tea. We are still in touch through email. I threw my back-pack in the room in the hotel and took a quick shower. May Linh arrived with her friend Coco. Hotel Pearl is next to the Hoan Kiem lake. So we decided to take a walk and find a nice restaurant near the lake. Crossing the road through hundreds of motor cycles and scooters is always a challenge to me. I stood there thinking of how to cross. May Linh said, “if you stand there waiting, you would wait till tomorrow morning.” I said, “Hey, I want to have a honourable death, not dying under a scooter.” May Linh laughed, “Just walk slowly through the traffic, don’t panic and don’t run. You would be fine. The scooters would make their way around you. Just follow me”. I followed May Linh. I don’t feel nervous in sky diving, but I was nervous staring at the head lights of the scooters rushing towards me. Fortunately, she was right. No accident happened. We picked up an open air roof top restaurant. The dinner was good. It was nice to see May Linh after the Sapa trip, but we couldn’t chat for a long time. I had to go back to the hotel to meet Milu. I promised May Linh that I would later join her for a drink if time permits. Fortunately, Milu and Duong came ten minutes late. It was so great to see them. I returned her brother’s running shoes. We talked for a short while. They didn’t wait long, because the next day is a working day for both of them. It was almost 10:00 pm. I was tired as I hardly had any sleep last night. As promised, I joined May Linh and Coco for a quick drink in a pub across the hotel and said good bye to them. I just wanted to crash out. I had a long day and I will have another long day tomorrow. While I was crossing the lobby towards the elevator in the hotel, the front desk receptionist smiled at me and asked, “how did you become so popular in such a short time. It’s a never ending stream of people since the evening”! I returned her smile and said, ”You know, it’s the people what matters, Good night”. I quickly packed my suitcase and hit the sack.

I was fresh in the morning after a good night sleep. The buffet breakfast tasted so good. I love red papaya in South East Asia. They are so sweet. I waited in the lobby just a short time, when Lucy came walking. She left her bi-cycle in HTS office and took a short walk. The SUV came after few minutes. I was talking to Lucy on the way...very interesting girl. She completed her diploma in food technology, tried jobs here and there, didn’t quite like those and started as a tour guide on a contract with HTS. And now she really loves her job! This is not the first time I met someone who never liked her job. I met many people before who never liked their professions. I guess everyone needs their own comfort levels. We were talking about cultures and values. Lucy is a good thinker and she has a great depth. I was really enjoying our conversation. We were discussing about Ho Chi Minh. She told me,” Do you know, we call him Uncle Ho”; I was curious and asked “why”. “Well, you know, Ho Chi Minh was a bachelor and he loved the children in Vietnam so much. He is truly the Uncle of our Nation. We love him”. On the way to the Ho Chi Mausoleum, she was telling me the story of Dien Bien Phu. That is one place I wanted to visit after I visited Sapa. It’s not too far from Sapa. But I didn’t plan it earlier and I didn’t have time during this trip. May be the next time. Lucy explained to me some difference in life styles between Hanoi and Saigon. I noticed that folks in Hanoi call it Ho Chi Minh city as opposed to Saigon. The influence of Ho Chi Minh is still very prominent in the mind of common people in Hanoi. And Lucy was right about the difference in life style. I found the same when I visited the Ho Chi Minh city later.

Our SUV dropped us in front of the mausoleum. The area is cordoned off by the security people and there is no parking close by. We left the matter to the driver where to park and joined the line up to enter. Lucy is a tour guide, so she has a different entrance than mine. She told me that I should take off the base ball hat when inside the mausoleum as a show of respect. Later inside the compound, Lucy joined me and she kept my camera as photography is not allowed inside the mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved. Lucy told me that she was not going to come with me inside. She would rather wait outside for me. It was a short walk through the garden path and concrete pathway to the mausoleum. Single file was in order. Soldiers are guarding with sharp eyes at every few paces. Inside, it is all quite and the air conditioners was running in full blast. I could see Ho Chi Minh was lying fully dressed inside a glass enclosure. Quietly, the people were walking in a single file and no stopping was allowed. I followed the line. Soon I was out and I lost Lucy for a moment. The outside compound is huge and I was not sure which direction to go. After a while, I found my way and soon tracked down Lucy. We walked and talked. We passed through the garden where Uncle Ho used to walk in the morning, we crossed the pond where he used to feed the fish, we saw the cars that he used to use- they were all nicely preserved. We crossed the modest room where he used to sleep. He had a dream. He fought for the nation; he helped building the nation after the war was over. Things have changed since. Vietnam is still under communist regime. But it is transforming slowly to fit in today’s world. Smart phones are everywhere, Cafe’s are full with younger generation, but still the influence of Uncle Ho could be seen in many facets of life. Stricter rules of the communist regime are observed in places like it is difficult to perceive in the Western world. Shops and eateries are closed after 9:00 pm which is unheard of in North America. Roads and garbage are cleaned every night by the city crews. I liked that practice. Generally, I found Hanoi to be a clean city and I didn’t find mosquitoes or open drains in any places that I visited.

Lucy and I came out of the mausoleum. Lucy received a call just before we came out through the gate. Apparently our car was in police custody as the driver parked the car in a no-parking zone. HTS arranged another car for us. What happened to my luggage? I was alarmed. I have a flight to catch in the noon and I didn’t have time to run around to retrieve my luggage. I was told that everything is intact. My luggage was transferred to the new car and there will not be any problem. Once we came out of the mausoleum we found our new car. Actually it was a minivan and bit much for two of us. But I couldn’t care less. I found my suitcase was already loaded in the car and I has happy. We headed towards the famous Long Bien bridge in another part of Hanoi. At a first glance, it does not appear to be a special kind of bridge. It is a 2.4 km long bridge and it was first built between 1899-1902. At that time, it was the longest bridge in Asia. During the American war in Vietnam, the bridge happened to be of critical importance as it was the only connection point between Hanoi and Hai Phong on the other side of the Red river. It was bombed first time by Americans in 1967. Apparently, the breakdown of the bridge did not cause much impact to Hanoi. Today, the bridge has become a symbol of courage and pride for the Vietnamese people. We found that newly- wed couples are posing for photographs with the bridge.

I don’t say that everything glitters in Hanoi. I saw some run down slums, congested housing before we went to the bridge. However, I expected that and such a contrast was not the focus of my travel. I wanted to see part of Hanoi that is historically important. I grew up in a time when Vietnam war was in full swing. After so many years, I wanted to see the transformation of a war torn country from the past. I hardly saw all the landmarks in Hanoi and I wanted to see more of Hanoi, but I simply ran out of time. However, I was impressed in whatever I could see. I tried to understand the pulse of the common people. The new generation of course were not born at the war time. Many don’t even know the history of the Vietnam war. They are growing up in the age of Twitter, Facebook and Smartphone. They want to move forward and that impressed me. When I heard my tour-guide in Sapa asked me if I have Whatsapp in my phone, I realized I am looking at a new generation of 21st century and not from 1967? I was in a pensive mood and I was thinking of all these. Suddenly I was startled when I heard Lucy saying, “Tab, you travel all over Vietnam; although I cannot say about other places, but you will find that we do maintain our values in Hanoi”. It was a loaded perception that I hardly expected from a young girl. I admired her thought process and depth of understanding of societal fabric. I told her I appreciate your knowledge and understanding. At the end, we came to Hoan Kiem lake area where she said good bye to me. She was in a rush for her next appointment. I grabbed a quick lunch and headed towards the airport.

We kept our friendship even after I left Vietnam. Lucy now works with five different companies and she hardly has any time to herself. She replies to my mail when she has time. I have been fortunate to meet all these hard working people and they are always the real treasure to me that I care so dearly. The minivan almost reached to the airport when I suddenly remembered what I told the staff in the Pearl hotel last night, “You know, it’s the people what matters”. I smiled at the thought. I wrote the same to Alice in an email later on , ”a place always finds its character due to its people”. The minivan was approaching the departure terminal. I felt a void. It was only a few days that I spent in North Vietnam. But I met so many people in the last few days and received so much love and affection that I have already built a bond with them. I am leaving all of them here not knowing whether I will be back again in the future, not knowing whether I will meet them again. But the world is small and one never knows! As I was slowly moving towards my departure gate after check-in and security formalities, I could hear the announcement of my flight departing to Da Nang.

Next is Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue.


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