01.07.2015 - 13.07.2015
We arrived back in Hanoi on the 30 June 2015 and returned to the same hotel, the “Golden Charm Hotel” in the Hanoi Old Quarter that we’d stayed in before we went to Sa Pa.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is famous for its 36 streets. It is the original trade area of Hanoi, the commercial centre for almost 1000 years. Each street has a specific item that it sells, and is named after that specialty. For example, Hang (merchandise) Be translates to Silk Street. Hang Quat (where we are staying) – has Buddha Statues, fans and ‘temple merchandise’ for worshipping.
While some streets have either changed or adapted different items for sale, you can pretty much get the picture of what the street is about as you walk around. We frequently walk along and say “This must be Haberdashery Street” or “This must be Paint Street” (photo below). A particular favourite is Gold Street! It’s great to wander around and check things out, but it can also be a bit of a stressful experience, since the streets were never designed to take all of the motorbikes and cars that whiz along. You need to keep your eyes peeled at all times!
Tan and I celebrated our birthdays in Hanoi and both had good days. The hotel staff were brilliant and surprised Tania with a birthday cake.
For my birthday, we had a good family day at the Vinpearl Waterpark at the Royal City Shopping Centre. The water park was actually two levels underground and took us quite a while to find. We’d decided to wing it with the local bus system, and found that no one really knew which bus we needed, bus drivers included. So we’d hop on the bus after being told it was the right one by the driver, only to be told by the conductor that no, this was not the one to be on. After a fair bit of good luck we managed to sort it out and got to the park after 2 hours. After 6 solid hours of climbing stairs and riding water rides, Cameron finally hit the wall and we headed home for late dinner, a surprise ice cream cake, and bed. Both boys did very well for the day.
One Sunday we went (or at least attempted to) for a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, the central landmark for the Old Quarter, said to still be holding a magical sword that was used to beat the Chinese and boot them out of Vietnam after 1000 years of rule in the 10th century. We were approached by a number of Vietnamese students, young adults who are studying at Uni but also learning English. They wanted to practice their English, and we have since learned that this is quite a common practice, for students to come and actively seek out foreigners who would be willing to have a bit of a chat. Lachlan, Tania and I were all sitting and practicing English with the group over a chat that lasted 2-3 hours. This was a great experience for us and the students were so keen. I am sure we would have still been there to the evening if we hadn’t made the move to leave. We made arrangements to catch up with one of the students again, and we arrived to find she had brought her whole class!
This led to an impromptu English lesson, with people sauntering up to listen for a bit, and sauntering away again. It was a bit surreal, but lots of fun!
Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights see’s the closure of some streets for the Market and other street activities. We have seen street performers and even found a street where kids could play. We have commented previously on how ingenious the Vietnamese are and this was certainly evident when you look at the play equipment they make from bamboo. We even saw a bamboo scooter that had grinding disks for wheels. Is there nothing that bamboo can't do???
While we haven’t typically gone for ‘sit on the street’ food, the desire to try one of the street vendors Doner Kebab’s was too strong. Needless to say they were delicious and with no ill effects afterwards which was even better. It shows how much you miss a food when you go back the next day for another one!
One of the things on our list before we headed off was to see a water puppet show, which is a traditional Vietnamese form of entertainment, originally developed by rice farmers for during the wet season. As all of the ads say, it's a "must see cultural experience", and we wanted the boys to see it. There is a water puppet theatre in Hanoi, so we went to the show and had a great time. The music provided for the show was played live by a band using traditional Vietnamese instruments, and the stage is basically a shallow pool of water, with the puppeteers operating the puppets from behind a screen. The show was a series of short plays, on things like "Catching the fox that chases the ducks" and "Fishing". There were even some fire-breathing dragons which were very cool!
We have commented a few times on how strange it feels to not be out and about constantly sightseeing, as we would normally do during a holiday to a foreign country. We actually feel a bit guilty for not doing it, like we’re wasting time and we should be going to have a look around, but it would be purely out of obligation. It’s nice to be able to chill out, as Lachie would say, without having the pressure of time upon us. We still see things, and get a sense of Hanoi, without having to rush around. It’s a different way to travel, and even after 5 months we’re still getting used to it!
So we head off to Bangkok on Monday, ending our 3 months in Vietnam. We've really enjoyed Vietnam, it's a great country with great people, but we're also looking forward to going to Japan (after 5 days in Bangkok). That's going to be a complete change in culture!