Arriving in a dark Hanoi late at night seemed quite alarming…we later found out that there are few lights in side streets and even the main roads aren’t well lit so when shops shut at 9 everyone disappears. As their days start 5ish that makes sense.
Hanoi……we stood on a street corner on the first morning and I counted around 160 motor scooters passing us in 30 seconds…and every single one was bipping their horn. – the noise was relentless and eventually horrendous. Do you remember the old computer game Pacman? Crossing the roads was like playing that…there were a few traffic lights but none of the drivers took any notice of them so you simply had to step out and do the Pacman moves. We got used to weaving in and out of scooters carrying anything and everything, from families (children squashed between parents; friends…up to 4 teenagers; baskets; trees (the symbolic thing to buy for New Year is a Kumquat tree so there were some fantastic sights of tiny orange fruits bouncing furiously behind the driver); chickens in cages…pigs!!!
Small, birdlike women carried baskets of strange and fascinating fruits balanced precariously over one shoulder, they swung these heavy baskets (apparently effortlessly) from one shoulder to another and carried them, selling as they walked, with a grace and agility that was amazing considering the traffic (human and vehicles) that could have sent them flying.
We were staying in the Old Quarter and explored alleyways (every street specialising in different things – toys, shoes, sewing stuff, paper cut outs to burn at funerals, lanterns, lacquered goods, scales and brushes (Eddie got very excited and wanted to buy so much for his glazes….you can take the man out of his pottery but you can’t……….. etc) and markets (food market; fish and meat of every description and aroma…the place was an assault on the senses, especially the olfactory one… tantalizing whiffs of spices and fresh fruit followed by others that I found just too, too difficult…then we saw potted dog…the tail gave it away. .
Everything happens on the pavements – eating, celebrating, cutting hair, doing pedicures, welding exhaust pipes wearing sunglasses as goggles, playing badminton, card games, cooking.
People are very friendly, love their children, will try to rip off any western tourist as a matter of principle, aren’t very good pickpockets (one tried to open my fleece pocket…he was rubbish and I shouted at him and he backed off) and try very hard to speak English which is very helpful! They seem to have adored Ho Chi Min and talk about him with huge pride. He was yet one more embalmed leader we didn’t go to see….but his place of rest was impressive (somewhere between Lenin and Mao in size and stature!)
We had 2 trips out…one to a pottery village where we were given lovely hospitality by a Vietnamese couple but it was all slip moulds and no throwing so Eddie couldn’t pot in Vietnam. The other was to Ha Long Bay which is the most beautiful place where we drifted round the islands on a boat and revelled in the peace and beauty of this natural wonder. We saw sea eagles (wedge shaped tail Steve…is that right?We also went to a Water Puppet Theatre which was great fun….interesting music and instruments, puppets were clever and funny and used underwater fireworks.
So – Hanoi – frantic, noisy…there is more to Vietnam than this. Laos next…..