Posted by JC on January 24th, 2010
In Hanoi the sky is leaden, the city grey and misty. We are told it was fine until we arrived. The first two days it poured. We were dragged through the teaming rain by our determined guide to admire Ho Chi Minh’s grim mausoleum, and be earnestly instructed at the Temple of Literature, its grounds rapidly becoming a lake. Old ladies gleefully cashing in, offering paper-thin plastic rain capes for inflated prices at every monument. We buy them with gratitude. Soaked jeans, soaked trainers and increasing misery. We called a halt. Enough sight-seeing in the rain. Stopped at Shoe Street on the way back for a $20 pair of “Nikes”.
The traffic is insane and anarchic. The energy of the place almost buzzes. Horns blast incessantly, though they appear to mean “I’m coming, look out!” rather than “Get out of my way!” Cars, buses, trucks, cylos, bicycles and thousands of scooters weave, cross and U-turn in all directions and avoid collision by centimetres. In spite of this, we’ve seen only one minor bump. Two scooters met in a scissors movement, the riders detached their bikes, nodded politely to each other and scooted off. These must be the best drivers and riders in the world. Crossing the road is an exercise in terror. Somehow they flow around you.
From the gracious old Hotel Metropole, we cross into another world, walking through the Old Quarter of the city. That sounds so simple, and might be if the pavements weren’t blocked by goods for sale and parked scooters. No choice but to take your life in your hands and walk in the road. It takes hours to negotiate a couple of kilometres. Streets dedicated to shoes, or toys, or tin boxes, or herbs, or counterfeit money to be burned in Buddhist ceremonies. Fancy sending a few thousand US dollars up in smoke? Tiny shops in which people spend their lives, squatting on the pavement, eating Pho, waiting patiently for a sale.
The food is wonderful, the standard of living in the streets appalling by our standards. But there are relatively few beggars and those we’ve seen have been genuinely handicapped. The people just get on with it, eking out a living, producing beautiful babies – and regarding tourists as an amusing oddity to be exploited if possible and otherwise ignored, though we’ve been handed children asked to pose for photos by their grinning parents. “And yesterday I got a shot of a couple of funny white people in the street…”
You get used to it remarkably quickly. To the dirt, to the grimness, to the chaos, to the noise. It’s been stressful, but instructive.
On to Hue tomorrow. No predictions. No idea what it will be like.
Just a quick hi from a blogger in Hanoi.
Nice post. The only item I’d vaguely take issue with is the penultimate paragraph and the dirt and grimness.
I reckon that Hanoi is cleaner than most comparable developing countries. As for grim – I can see your point in terms of poverty but I think the place is absolutely gorgeous. Although during those days of rain that might be harder to tell.
It’s a shame you can’t see it in the autumn.
I recently returned to Hanoi after a year living in Cameroon. In comparison I love how people here pay attention to the purely cosmetic and they care how things look. From beautifully tended flower displays in parks to carefully maintained pagodas.
That said – these past few days, weatherwise, have been a bit bleak.
Good luck with the rest of your trip.
Thanks, guys. Just landed in Hue and it seems eerily quiet! I’d love to go back to Hanoi when the sun is shining – we missed out on so many things we’d like to have seen. That said, the Old Quarter was fascinating, if a little scary.
Not sure where you’re headed but I found the South, Delta region, less manic than Hanoi.
We too visited the ‘Ho Chi Minh’s grim mausoleum’ Apparently he had just come back from Moscow where he had been undergoing some care and attention in the mummification department.
We stood in line outside the building for an age. One guy in front was taken to task by the supervising staff for having his hands in his pocket.
He was American. Loud and a little beery. Initially he started to protest – but his partner nudged him – and pointed out two more of the guards colleagues walking leisurely towards them. He quietened down, took his hands out his pockets and the guards walked off with a sniff.
Back in the old town and again, around the lake which, as you guys know, dominates the city centre, we too watched the people cooking tea on the pavements while finding the courage to attempt another crossing of the street.
Have to say – left a bit of my heart in Hanoi
Be nice to hear more about the food.
Greedy Eggwhyte! The food is worth more than a passing reference. I’ll do a post on it later. Best read when hungry.
“Sights, Smells and Tastes” are such important narratives in any travelogue. We want to know about the local cuisine — cheap, tasty, etc etc