Happy Valentine's Day!
Well we are definitely in the north! Brad and I made camp here in Hanoi for a bit. We needed the rest and this seemed as good a place as any to get it. (Plus we deperately needed to do laundry and mail a package home, 3-5 months by boat!) The streets of the Old Quarter are narrow and remind me of the cow paths of Boston. Although the feel is much more French. Large vehicles won't fit in these narrow streets so the area is restricted to motorbikes, cyclos, and loads of pedestrians. Each street in this area is a market unto itself. In fact, historically the streets are named after the wares that were sold on each street. The corner where we stayed was the Fresh Beer corner, boy how convenient. (Hanoi is quite famous for the family style micro-breweries that can be found everywhere.) In the middle of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake. There is a temple in the middle of the lake and the outskirts of the lake are popular for young couples and older couples alike. In the early morning and late evening you can also see loads of Vietnamese out for exercise. Here in Hanoi you're just as likely to see old men wearing French berets as well as North Vietnamese Army pith helmets. Like I said, we are definitely in the north!
One of the big attractions of Hanoi is the Water Puppets. This artform originated in the rice paddies during the flood season when the farmers decided to let the water table be their stage. So the internationally acclaimed Water Puppet Theater puts on a production of puppets with fireworks and live music. All in Vietnamese but the puppeteering is good enough to get the idea. Really quite ingenious and very creative!
The other draw for Hanoi is Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. They have a whole complex dedicated to their late great leader. The Mausoleum (though no Taj Mahal) is really majestic. Its architecture is so stoic. Every morning from 8-11 they allow visitors to pass through to see the embalmed remains of Uncle Ho. (Sorry, no photographs.) He looks pretty good considering he passed away in 1969. There was a huge line when we got there but the guards keep it moving at a good clip. We also timed it right for the changing of the guards, but they had our camera then so again, no photographs. The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a weird blend of history and modern art. We didn't quite appreciate the theme but it was interesting nonetheless. Inside are many quotes from the great leader about the misgivings of the bourgeois and the need for a more socialist society. I wonder how Uncle Ho would feel if he could see the state of affairs right outside his tomb. Its a capitalist nightmare, everyone selling everything!
Our last musuem of note was the Hoa Lo Prison or what the American POWs called the Hanoi Hilton. This prison was built by the French to imprison Vietnamese revolutionaries and patriots (as the museum called them.) Later it was used by the Vietnamese to house the American POW pilots. By all accounts, the POWs stay was no where near as bad as the way the Vietnamese were treated by the French. The museum dedicates equal space to show how cruel the French were to the Vietnamese and contrarily, how nice the Vietnamese were to the Americans. It shows a brochure about how life as a POW is "normal" and shows them celebrating Christmas and playing volleyball. Still, the sense of propaganda was strong when you saw the "smiling" photos of the POWs. Surely this was no Hilton!
To celebrate Valentine's Day we went for high tea at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel. This hotel is part of the Oriental/Bangkok and Raffles/Singapore hotel chain. A bit posh for a couple of backpackers but so worth it.
Tomorrow we leave for a cruise of Halong Bay. Time for us to get those packs zipped up and bust out of Hanoi. But we've enjoyed the stay.
Happy Valentine's Day to all!!