Nov 25, 2015


For our fifth time in Hanoi, the watchword (for me, anyway) was "rain." Lots and lots of rain. Cold rain. Heavy rain at times. Hours of rain. Rain.

raining the whole trip from Tam Coc into Hanoi -- a warning! 
know what's under that blanket? A PIG. I kid you not.
Since walking in the old quarter is dicey on the best of days, requiring walking in the street, in the gutter, on the sidewalk, into the mud around trees, up onto the landings of shops, amid motorcycles, among cars, and dodging women carrying yokes and on bicycles, doing all that in the rain is just another level of too-muchness.

motorcycles park on the sidewalk 
dodge these women carrying their burdens 
crowded streets, to be sure
I love Hanoi. It's too much. It's so busy, it's noisy, everyone is scuttling around being busy, selling things, making food, talking, and ignoring tourists -- of which there is an increasing number. Young people and old people, all hustling to make a living. And the people are extraordinarily beautiful, men and women, young and old. I just love this place so much, even though it also overwhelms me at times. I'll be going along just fine, wading into dozens of motorcycles coming from all directions, and then all at once I freeze and can't do it. I lose my nerve, and you just can't do that here. It's an orchestrated trust system, where all those people on motorcycles expect you to keep going in the direction you're going. They trust you to do that, and they'll scoot this way or that. So stepping into the mix and then freezing, or stepping backward, is not good at all.

Ordinarily we stay at the Rising Dragon Palace -- always in the same room too, on the top floor with a terrace -- but this time, due to construction they cancelled our reservation in the weeks before we left New York and suggested another hotel. Instead, Marc got us a reservation at the Golden Sun Suites Hotel, which is also in the old quarter. We feel sentimental about the Rising Dragon Palace, although the last time we stayed there some of the charm was gone. The people were less engaging, less friendly. But here at the Golden Sun Suites, the people are wonderful, friendly, warm, and gorgeous, whether it's the young men who open the doors and greet us with big smiles, or the young woman who greeted us, talked to us about Hanoi, and smiles at us each time we come and go. I love coming and going just to have the chance to see her.

Yesterday, our plan was just to walk around, see the old familiar places, get coffee, and then wander around to an Indian restaurant Marc had found that sounded hopeful.

something fancy was going on in front of the statue of the first emperor; the women were wearing ao dai
that looked like the VN flag, red with a large yellow star in the middle 
lots of lights strung up in the park around the lake, but they weren't lit at night -- no idea!
gym equipment appears at this spot somewhat randomly -- don't know who brings it, but the men work very hard! 
to me this is CLASSIC Hanoi, with the scary power line situation 
more -- see what I mean? 
never saw this before -- old propaganda poster store 
we stopped at a coffee shop to wait out the rain and I saw that little book store -- so inviting looking
The Indian food restaurant turned out to be a bust, and super bizarre, but it was a nice walk to a new part of the old quarter. Before heading back to the hotel, we walked around Hoan Kiem lake again, which is just so beautiful day or night:

lots of brides and grooms getting photographed day and night 
so many they're clumping up side by side, even 
the emperor statue is always lit up 
the red bridge goes to a temple, and the yellow building is a coffee shop/restaurant we like 
panorama of the lake
the gates to the temple 
such beautiful trees all around (and lying in!) the lake
As always, as we sat around the lake a couple of young Vietnamese students approached us to ask if we would speak English with them. One always speaks much better English than the other. Last night it was a young woman studying at the university, majoring in psychology in the education department; she hoped to be a teacher one day, but not in Hanoi because it's too noisy. The young man, who spoke less English, was studying architecture and also really did not want to stay in Hanoi -- too busy. They seemed bewildered by our love of Hanoi. Usually the students have a list of questions they ask, but these seemed to hope we would carry the whole conversation. They were very sweet, and asked for our email addresses and asked someone sitting nearby to take a picture of the four of us together. She put her hand on my shoulder, so I did the same, and Marc curiously (and funnily) thought it would be best to hold the other student's hand. I'm not sure what he thought about that, but it was just all so dear and sweet. They said they'd email the picture to us, and I hope they do.

Our mission today focused entirely on food -- and it was raining SO MUCH, so steadily, for so long, that my spirits got pretty low. I was cold and wet, and my feet were freezing in my sandals. We had very thin rain ponchos, but Marc wore shorts and I wore a skirt so our bare legs were soggy and muddy. Still, we prevailed on the food front:

the dining room is tiny, and we were crammed into the back corner, which means
we had a view of the room and the street 
oh yeah. PHO. 
here's mine -- with an egg -- and doctored up with lots of chilis and a splash of chili sauce
the view -- kinda rough, but boy do they make great pho 
GIANT vats of pho, at Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc St.
After our pho, we returned to the lake to walk around, stop for another coffee, and warm up from the rain.

I never get tired of seeing beautiful Vietnamese women 
the lake was so quiet this morning 

We scurried back to the hotel to check in for our flight and rest a bit, and then headed out for lunch #1: xoi ngo, which is steamed corn and rice. Marc also got chicken on top of his:

dresses and heels, on a tiny little stool -- but still so graceful 
Xoi ngo -- with crunch fried onions and vinegary pickle -- YUM. Marc's had chicken, and I got
a giant Hanoi beer, and our lunch was a couple of bucks all together. 
see the steamed corn in among the rice?
Walking in the chaos and cold, pouring rain wore me down so we headed back to the hotel for a nap. After a hot shower to wash the mud off my legs and feet, I crashed and we slept hard. Then? Lunch #2! We headed back to the bun cha place we ate at last year, and Marc said it was as good as before. I wasn't hungry and I didn't want to eat pork, but he enjoyed it:

charcoal grilled pork belly -- bun cha also originated in Hanoi, like pho
comes with a big pile of cold noodles and a giant pile of fresh greens and sprouts. $1.33.
here's where they prepare the plates. 
We wandered back to the hotel, again in the rain, but this time we were wearing our heavier Gortex rain coats so while our legs and feet got wet and muddy, at least we weren't quite as cold. Scenes from our walk, in random order:

motorcycles park right IN the stores 
women in dresses (and usually heels) on motorcycles 
I love this about Hanoi. If you don't want to buy some electronics, how about some food?
big fancy hotel over by the Hanoi Opera, complete with a big old Christmas tree. Could be in NYC.
inside the night market 
lots of shoes for sale in the night market 
that's a war memorial outside the night market 
NO IDEA what this stuff is -- medicine? snakes? NO IDEA! 
Hanoi Opera on the left, and the Hanoi Hilton (not that one!) on the right 
the bull at the Hanoi Stock Exchange. This is a communist country. I don't quite get it.
Hanoi. Stock. Exchange. 
typical street 
more typical street 
more typical street
more typical street 
want a suitcase? No? Then how about some food?
haircut on the sidewalk
temple, complete with POWER LINES! 
Hanoi has some magnificent trees 
Weasel coffee! Weasels eat the coffee beans then poop them out. It's a thing.
We're off to dinner and then an early night -- the cab takes us to the airport at 5:30 in the morning for our flight down to Can Tho, in the Mekong Delta. Even when Hanoi is a bit too much, and it can be for me sometimes, I love it so dearly and I'm always afraid I won't get to come back. Fingers crossed. Tam biet, Hanoi.

1 comment:

  1. Loving your posts xx The power lines and dodgy restaurants though - not sure I could do it!! I think I would lose quite a bit of weight in Hanoi! Keep writing please xx


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